San Luis Obispo, CA – based Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero for short) is partnering with NASA to create an all-electric X-57 “Maxwell” technology demonstrator aircraft. The Central Coast engineering firm specializes in “on-demand engineering” and ultimately plans to retrofit a Tecnam P2006T general aviation aircraft to demonstrate their technological advances in electric propulsion. The Tecnam P2006T is a popular light...
San Luis Obispo, CA – based Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero for short) is partnering with NASA to create an all-electric X-57 “Maxwell” technology demonstrator aircraft. The Central Coast engineering firm specializes in “on-demand engineering” and ultimately plans to retrofit a Tecnam P2006T general aviation aircraft to demonstrate their technological advances in electric propulsion.
The Tecnam P2006T is a popular light twin-engine aircraft, used commonly for multi-engine flight training. ESAero’s planned timeline for incorporating design advances to the X-57 began with receiving the aircraft in 2017, followed by Mod II Flight Testing at NASA’s Armstrong Research Center during 2018. The team plans on demonstrating that their concept will save five times the energy of a comparable aircraft during cruise profile. The fuselage contains 800 lbs of batteries to power the two main electric motors mounted on the wings for cruise flight. To facilitate vertical takeoff and landing, the aircraft is outfitted with an additional 12 electric motors dispersed across the wings.
From the company’s press release: “This tooling fuselage significantly reduces overall project duration by giving engineers at ESAero and Xperimental, LLC the opportunity to perform critical experimental wing integration tasks while NASA engineers flight test the Mod II configuration at the same time,” said Tom Rigney, NASA X-57 Project Manager. “One of our key goals is to overcome the many challenges associated with integrating these new all-electric technologies and to flight test them as soon as possible. This fuselage helps us to achieve this essential goal.” said Rigney. “We want to quickly provide lessons learned to the aviation industry to help them to develop and safely fly new all-electric and hybrid-electric aircraft that have so many potential benefits.”
Why it’s important: Empirical Systems Aerospace is applying a plug-and-play approach to the electrification of aviation by combining a proven airframe with electric propulsors. The company is adopting a dispersed propulsion approach, similar to other firms such as Verdego Aero, to maximize their efficiency gains during flight. ESAero’s contract with NASA has most likely also caught the eye of Uber, as the ride-sharing company is engaged in an ongoing developmental relationship with NASA as well.
NASA’s Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge is part of a growing movement within the aviation community to develop a future urban air transport system. Here’s one artist’s rendition of how a future urban airspace might look. NASA is assessing responses to an initial Request for Information (RFI) as the first step in kicking off its Grand Challenge. Responses were due...
NASA’s Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge is part of a growing movement within the aviation community to develop a future urban air transport system. Here’s one artist’s rendition of how a future urban airspace might look.
NASA is assessing responses to an initial Request for Information (RFI) as the first step in kicking off its Grand Challenge. Responses were due November 16, 2018 and served to get a better idea of what organizations are interested in participating. Participants might include air vehicle developers, air traffic management system developers, the FAA, and others. Certain consulting firms, like Booz Allen Hamilton, have already started working through select scenarios.
The RFI document, released by NASA one month earlier, stated “each participant will each be challenged to complete a series of common safety and integration scenarios”. The actual scenarios will be released after NASA finishes assessing potential participants.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) has expressed interest in getting involved with the Grand Challenges. A briefing published by the AOPA declared Senior Director of Airspace, Air Traffic, and Aviation Security Rune Duke wrote to NASA, reminding them that for the Grand Challenges program, “collaboration with other airspace stakeholders will be key to success.” AOPA has repeatedly shown interest in tackling metropolitan air transport challenges. They recently published this video from the National Business Aviation conference in Orlando, Oct 2018.
Why it’s Important:
The Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge is a multi-phase program that will, over the course of several years, identify and address the key challenges associated with accessible air transport systems in metropolitan areas. The first phase, named GC-1, will kick off the program by promoting UAM and building the public’s confidence in its safety. NASA plans to sponsor community learning and a possible flight demonstration as part of this mission.
NASA and Booz’s Executive Brief in Detail NASA and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released a joint study on November 12 that outlined future projections of the urban aviation industry. The original executive briefing was presented on October 5th to NASA’s Aeronautics Research Directorate. Before we go into the details of the study, here are some of the key takeaways:...
NASA and Booz’s Executive Brief in Detail
NASA and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released a joint study on November 12 that outlined future projections of the urban aviation industry. The original executive briefing was presented on October 5th to NASA’s Aeronautics Research Directorate. Before we go into the details of the study, here are some of the key takeaways:
- Airport Shuttle and Air Taxi markets have a total addressable market of over $500 Billion
- Air Ambulance services are not practical due to technology constraints – but hybrid aircraft may provide feasible alternatives
- Legal, regulatory, weather, public perception, and infrastructure hurdles exist
- 0.5% of the TAM, or $2.5 Billion, could be captured in the near term
- Constraints may be eased by government partnerships, industry collaboration, industry commitment, and existing legal and regulatory enablers
That’s the Summary. Here are the details.
A Strategic Advisory Group, or SAG, was assembled from prominent figures in the UAM, transportation, government regulations, infrastructures, public policy, and insurance disciplines – the SAG serves as an invaluable resource that enabled the information and advice of experts in their respective disciplines to offer their work and research toward answering some of the most pressing issues in the path towards wide spread UAM application. The study analyzed the following key components, each of which will be detailed below:
- Market Selection
- Legal and Regulatory
- Societal Barriers
- Weather Analysis
- Market Analysis
The study focused on a consortium of 10 cities across the United States to represent the larger industry.
Of potential interest in the selection of these 10 cities (and one city that has not been considered as heavily in the past) was that of Denver. Other cities that were selected, such as Los Angeles and Miami, have already been under consideration by real estate development companies and technology firm UAM development plans. However, the selection of Denver in this study is important – Denver has the potential for the lowest portion of air taxi shuttle trips within the FAA’s National Airspace System (NAS), which balances the perspective of a mostly urban-dominated, completely NAS-immersed UAM operating environment.
Legal and Regulatory
The largest legal and regulatory challenges that have the potential to slow urban aviation are regulations that already exist. In general, the framework for certifying aircraft already exists, but there are numerous legal barriers and gaps in the path to certification for some aircraft that may be classified as rotorcraft/mixed propulsion. Similarly, determining which regulations apply to what component(s) of air taxis is another challenge that has not yet been answered. Finally, system redundancy and failure management are critical safety considerations that will not be amended whatsoever for the sake of introducing a new type of aircraft such as an air taxi.
Fortunately, there are answers on the horizon to these challenges; for instance, ballistic parachute recovery systems are being developed for UAM systems. Additionally, the summary also cited that voluntary self-regulation (or even proposal of standards) may help to advance the regulatory process faster than relying solely on federal and state governments.
The largest concerns from the audience surveyed in this study (both younger persons aged 18-29 and older persons aged over 50) focused on credibility of pilots and the manufacturers of the aircraft. In general, those pilots/companies who were older attained a higher level of perceived experience, but gender and racial bias also played a role in affecting a passenger’s comfort with boarding a given flight. Passengers preferred intra-city hops instead of inter-city trips, and surprisingly, accepted a “hybrid flight deck” configuration where one pilot was onboard and the other “pilot” was automated.
Interestingly, the study also analyzed the position of weather in effecting UAM operations, and how in some locales the weather has enough of an adverse effect on air taxi services that their application could be placed in jeopardy. In general, cities in the Western United States had favorably weather, with the exception of impacts due to potential low visibility, high temperatures, and strong surface winds during summer thunderstorms. Cities like San Francisco suffer during the summer mornings when low-lying fog banks generate IFR conditions.
In the Eastern United States, storms and low visibility are the primary limiting factors, especially during summer afternoons. In areas such as Texas, low level wind shear, high temperatures, and storms have large impact potential to UAM operations, storms in the summer, and low visibility in the winter. While the summary did not expound further, expect more details in the full report – and also an overview of just how much the TAM may be reduced by seasonal weather shifts.
A Monte Carlo analysis was performed under a range of constraints to determine max usabilities – constraints involving customer’s willingness to pay, infrastructure limited, time of day limited, weather limited, and unconstrained scenarios. After performing these analyses, it was determined that only ~0.5% of unconstrained trips were captured after all other constraints were applied. This figure translates the $500 Billion as mentioned originally to the $2.5 Billion TAM. While the UAM market itself provides a lucrative magnitude of TAM, it is not without competitors – such as autonomous cars.
Additionally, analyses were conducted to determine the cost of air ambulance transports. After 10,000 iterations of this analysis, the estimated cost for an average trip was $9,000 for an eVTOL, and $9,800 for a hybrid – compared to $10,000 for that of a conventional helicopter transport. While there is a potential cost savings and practical benefit to eVTOLS as air ambulances (potential lives saved) the operational proficiency for eVTOLs will require time to establish – time that helicopters have had to demonstrate their applicability in situations that require extreme consistency. Another important consideration is the return time for an eVTOL, which is much higher than helicopters. While helicopters can be fueled with Jet-A in a matter of minutes, the charging technology for eVTOL’s is still not completely matured.
The best case scenario for air shuttle and air ambulance services includes a TAM of $500 Billion. In the near term, 5-seat eVTOL’s will cost ~$6.25 per passenger mile to operate. The high cost of infrastructure (and the current availability of infrastructure) are both large hurdles to overcome. Legal and regulatory analysis found that the air taxi, air ambulance, and air shuttle markets all face similar barriers. Additionally, psychological analysis and market surveys have proven that the general public is much more likely to board a piloted aircraft than an autonomous one. Finally, weather is a larger influencer in the applicability of air shuttle services than the industry has previously considered.
Why it’s Important: The joint Executive Summary between NASA and Booz Allen Hamilton has underscored many of the points made by numerous other consulting studies – but it also includes new considerations that will be important for the future development of the UAM industry, including the effects of return time for air ambulance operations and the effects of weather on all three markets. Stay tuned for the release of the full study and increased details on each of the topics addressed in the executive summary. The study emphasizes that a market of $2.5 billion may be reached in the short term (even after all the constraints are applied to market modeling) which is a large enough magnitude to continue to sustain the level of interest and dedication toward making this industry commercially operational in about five years.
After its recent Urban Air Mobility Industry Day November 1st-2nd, NASA has announced its partnership with NextNav, a three dimensional mapping software.Unlike most traditional location services, maps by NextNav offer vertical accuracy as well as traditional GPS positioning. NASA plans to utilize NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) as part of its testing efforts at its research center in Langley Virginia....
After its recent Urban Air Mobility Industry Day November 1st-2nd, NASA has announced its partnership with NextNav, a three dimensional mapping software.Unlike most traditional location services, maps by NextNav offer vertical accuracy as well as traditional GPS positioning. NASA plans to utilize NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System (MBS) as part of its testing efforts at its research center in Langley Virginia.
NASA’s research center in Langley is named CERTAIN–City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation. This space is designed to test all varieties of vertical lift technologies ranging from delivery drones to passenger air taxis.
NextNav’s Metropolitan Beacon System also makes itself unique by offering vehicle tracking in areas where GPS signal may not be available. The software itself is built around safely and reliably managing urban air mobility operations. The 3D geolocation location service also offers unique visualization of airspaces.
Rather than through satellites as with GPS, the NextNav Metropolitan Beacon System works through a series of transmitting beacons strategically positioned around urban areas to give a level of accuracy and reliability that GPS cannot provide:
While NextNav provides technology for geolocation, other companies like AirMap aim to provide air space management software for future urban air mobility infrastructure. AirMap, is a Santa Monica based startup which has raised $26 million in Series B funding and has been selected as the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) provider for the U.S’s first drone corridor. The company has been providing flight planning services for recreational and commercial drone operators since its founding in 2014.
Why it’s important: As NASA further builds its repertoire of technologies, urban air mobility services become closer and closer to reality. Although the FAA provides final certification for aircraft, NASA has been a driving force behind developing safety standards for these technologies. While CERTAIN may only run tests on UAV vehicles, testing on passenger VTOLs is not far behind.
On Nov 1-2nd in Seattle, NASA held an Industry Day to prepare over 400 stakeholders for its upcoming Urban Air Mobility ‘Grand Challenges’. With this Industry Day, NASA hopes to connect itself with the wider industry, and to prepare all stakeholders for the first Grand Challenge, which will take place in 2020. The Grand Challenges are partly aimed at inspiring...
On Nov 1-2nd in Seattle, NASA held an Industry Day to prepare over 400 stakeholders for its upcoming Urban Air Mobility ‘Grand Challenges’.
The Grand Challenges are partly aimed at inspiring the public, but will also put aircraft designs to the test in a wide variety of flight test scenarios including bulked landings, certain weather conditions, emergency landing situations, lost communications links, and normal operational flight.
Once vehicles have been approved for the challenge, NASA hopes that the event will lead for a regulatory framework for eventual certification. This both drives the industry forward, and means that any vehicle manufacturer who wants eventual certification should be at the 2020 Grand Challenge.
Manufacturer/Designers still have until November 16th to submit the NASA Grand Challenge Request for Information (RFI) if they wish to participate in Grand Challenge 1.
Guests at the November Industry Day also included companies developing key onboard systems, such as electric propulsion, detect and avoid or command and control; and providers of air traffic management systems for UAM aircraft operating over urban areas. NASA did not directly speak to how the Grand Challenge series compares to efforts like Uber Elevate, but NASA will be at the heart of certification and regulation issues.
In collaboration with Booz Allen Hamilton Consulting, NASA believes that by 2030, there will be as many as 500 million flights a year for package delivery services and 750 million flights a year for air metro services.
Why it’s important: With many efforts to push the UAM industry forward, it’s can be hard to understand why having such a wide range of them is important. Right now, the two biggest industry-gathering efforts are from Uber Elevate and NASA. It’s important to note that these two organizations serve different purposes: Uber most likely seeks like to streamline the business execution of VTOLs for the public, while NASA most likely seeks more to provide a baseline for safety and push for certification. Ultimately, it’s important for anyone wishing to be in the industry to fully understand both sides.
NASA has made its stance in the new flying car industry clear by recognizing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) as the next step in aviation innovation. In 2020, NASA will commence the first of it’s series of urban air mobility ‘Grand Challenges‘. These challenges will focus on allowing companies with new flight technologies to successfully demonstrate full system safety. Part of...
NASA has made its stance in the new flying car industry clear by recognizing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) as the next step in aviation innovation.
In 2020, NASA will commence the first of it’s series of urban air mobility ‘Grand Challenges‘. These challenges will focus on allowing companies with new flight technologies to successfully demonstrate full system safety. Part of the goal of this effort is to begin the process of public confidence and acceptance.
On November 1-2, NASA will host an ‘Industry Day‘ for urban air mobility. Here, it plans to gather all the players in the coming eco-system to outline and prepare for the 2020 Grand Challenge. According to NASA, attendees will be companies that are “highly motivated to participate and work with us to achieve a safe, commercial operating capability.”
“The convergence of technologies, and new business models enabled by the digital revolution, is making it possible to explore this new way for people and cargo to move within our cities,” – Jaiwon Shin, NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research.
Another goal for the Grand Challenge is helping vehicles to achieve airworthiness certification. In collaboration with the FAA, vehicles will be put through performance tests both for normal flight and for emergency situations such as the loss of the motor. The first Grand Challenge will evaluate ground handling, taxi and takeoff, cruising capabilities and flight path changes, landing and turnaround in a variety of conditions, energy storage and battery capacity, and Management of critical systems failures.
“Now, our goals are to help develop and enable as much as possible what we like to think of as an entire ecosystem when it comes to Urban Air Mobility,” – Davis Hackenberg, UAM Engineer at NASA.
Why it’s important:
As an airspace traffic manager, NASA will play a crucial role in the new industry UAM industry. While the FAA determines certifications for aircraft, NASA will be greatly responsible for the new airspace management technologies. It has already spent the last six years working on its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System, which focuses on building a digital management ‘UAS’ system for unmanned commercial drones. The Grand Challenge event event takes the next big step for both aircraft certification and for UAS systems development.
NASA will be working with Bell Helicopter and others to overcome the current obstacles to commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operation. On August 29th, it announced funding up to $11 million to work with Bell. NASA names these main obstacles as technological advancements, systems integration, and certification of aircraft and avionics. Through this collaboration, NASA and Bell hope to deliver new technologies for unmanned aerial systems including integrated Detect and Avoid (DAA)...
NASA will be working with Bell Helicopter and others to overcome the current obstacles to commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operation. On August 29th, it announced funding up to $11 million to work with Bell. NASA names these main obstacles as technological advancements, systems integration, and certification of aircraft and avionics.
Through this collaboration, NASA and Bell hope to deliver new technologies for unmanned aerial systems including integrated Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies. Bell seeks to use the technologies it develops alongside NASA in its new Autonomous Pod Transport 70 (APT70). The APT70 is a tail-sitting VTOL with load capacity up to 70lbs, and a top speed up to 100mph. It vertically lifts into the air like a drone, and then rotates into a horizontal flight position to fly like a bi-plane using its built-in fixed wing. A near-final version of the APT70 will conduct a flight demonstration in 2020.
Bell showcased its prototype at XPONENTIAL 2018 aerospace show last May, positioning as having potential military use as well as commercial cargo use. In a military capacity, the ATP could eliminate the need for resupply by vehicle, bringing troops items like goggles, body armor, and batteries.
The collaboration between Bell and NASA will be managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Other partners include Textron Systems, Xwing, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). Bell will lead the design, development, production and systems integration of APT, while Textron Systems will supply command and control operations, Xwing will provide detect and avoid technologies, and CASA will provide weather avoidance technology.
Why it’s important: The Bell ATP70 is one of the first unmanned VTOLs featuring a fixed wing. Unlike many existing UAVs that carry payloads, it has the capability of horizontal flight, making it faster and more efficient, and giving it higher range. The development of technology and certifications for unmanned eVTOLs with fixed-wing capabilities paves the way for similar aircraft with passenger carrying abilities.
Bell will also be using the new technologies developed with NASA in its Air Taxi design. Learn more about the Bell Air Taxi here.
Airbus has created the blueprint for Airbus Altiscope, and airspace management system that envisions the future of urban airspace. Airbus Altiscope envisions that future airspace will include vehicles of all kinds ranging from delivery drones to air taxis. Primarily, it understands that much of airspace management will be automated, with humans only acting as oversight managers. In Airbus’s view, this change will...
Airbus has created the blueprint for Airbus Altiscope, and airspace management system that envisions the future of urban airspace.
Airbus Altiscope envisions that future airspace will include vehicles of all kinds ranging from delivery drones to air taxis. Primarily, it understands that much of airspace management will be automated, with humans only acting as oversight managers. In Airbus’s view, this change will be absolutely necessary given the prediction that air travel will increase tenfold by 2030.
While the full Airbus Altiscope blueprint is a 30 pages, the introduction video from Airbus gives a brief example of how airspace might work in the 2030s. According to Airbus, autonomous guidance systems will be able to re-arrange the multitude types of air traffic according to changing needs such sporting events. In this situation, media drones would be given certain from which to operate, air taxis would be rerouted to accommodate the event, and medical air vehicles would be given priority. The main point is that this system could successfully manage a great number of aircraft at once.
Also in the video, Airbus mentions that part of its current effort is running simulations in sync with decision modeling in order to evaluate and minimize risk. These simulations seek to take in all the considerations of future airspace, ranging from data-driven policy making to noise levels in suburban neighborhoods. The full video is shown below:
Why it’s important: With the Altiscope blueprint, Airbus is joining the effort of many other companies to build out future airspace. Both NASA and the FAA are working on conducting UAM testing, and Boeing has worked with AI firm Sparkcognition to found SkyGrid. AirMap, a company based in Santa Monica, has already begun using software to manage commercial and recreational drone flights. As the industry grows, it is becoming more apparent that software-based airspace management will be crucial to the urban air mobility market.
Hoversurf, the maker of the acclaimed Hoversurf Hoverbike, has begun a new video blog discussing urban air mobility. This week, Alex Atamanov explains the Venturi engine, which uses an electric ducted fan. Electric ducted fans are part of many popular VTOL designs: Follow Hoversurf on Youtube Hoversurf began delivering its Hoverbike to customers in September of 2018, starting with the Dubai police...
Hoversurf, the maker of the acclaimed Hoversurf Hoverbike, has begun a new video blog discussing urban air mobility.
This week, Alex Atamanov explains the Venturi engine, which uses an electric ducted fan. Electric ducted fans are part of many popular VTOL designs:
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Frankfurt Airport is partnering with Volocopter in building the ground infrastructure and operations for electric air taxi services. Frankfurt Airport and Volocopter envision passengers using Volocopter air taxis to transition from other transportation hubs to the Frankfurt Airport, and vice Versa. The current focus is planning for smooth passenger handling on the ground and efficient integration into the existing transport...
Frankfurt Airport is partnering with Volocopter in building the ground infrastructure and operations for electric air taxi services.
Frankfurt Airport and Volocopter envision passengers using Volocopter air taxis to transition from other transportation hubs to the Frankfurt Airport, and vice Versa. The current focus is planning for smooth passenger handling on the ground and efficient integration into the existing transport infrastructure. The two companies will examine these cases with the potential integration of a Volocopter Port.
With Volocopter ports, Frankfurt Airport hopes to place themselves at the forefront of modern transport. Anke Giesen, COO at Frankfurt Airport, said: “We want to be the first airport in Europe to harness the potential of electric air taxis in partnership with pioneer Volocopter – for the benefit of our passengers and the Frankfurt/Rhine-Main region. This partnership underscores Fraport AG’s role as a key driver of innovation in diverse fields.”
Volocopter has already completed successful test flights in Dubai and has also signed on with Singapore for intra-city demonstration and test flights later this year. Said Florian Reuter, CEO Volocopter GmbH:
“Providing the ideal connection between the city center and the airport poses a huge challenge for the world’s major cities. Together with Fraport AG, we are excited to pioneer the implementation of an air taxi service at one of Europe’s most important airports. We will be tapping into Fraport’s wealth of experience to integrate the Volocopter Service safely and efficiently into the complex array of processes required at a major international airport.”
Volocopter has also recently been the subject of other infrastructure integration examinations, including one by a design firm in the UK. Volcopter’s original vision for its port featured a conveyer belt system which would allow for quick storage and battery cell switching:
Why it’s important: The Frankfurt International Airport is one of the many companies the world over beginning to integrate electric air taxi services into their building designs. Others include Paramount World Center in Miami, BLADE, the VRCO landing pad in the UK, the Taskers residential development in Australia, and more. These developments indicate that building UAM infrastructure will likely be nearly as great an industry as manufacturing the vehicles themselves.
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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn, authored by Mehmet Emre YAZICI. * The word “shape” is freely used to describe the external configuration of the aircraft. Why Airframe Shape is Important? For the first time in known history, humankind is this close to make the “flying-car” a reality. Today, 70+ manufacturers worldwide, (including; Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Embraer, Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Volvo, etc.) are seriously involved...
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn, authored by Mehmet Emre YAZICI.
* The word “shape” is freely used to describe the external configuration of the aircraft.
Why Airframe Shape is Important?
For the first time in known history, humankind is this close to make the “flying-car” a reality. Today, 70+ manufacturers worldwide, (including; Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Embraer, Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Volvo, etc.) are seriously involved in developing some form of an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle. As of September 2018, total global investment volume has exceeded $1 billion. According to The Electric VTOL News™, since 2011 some 140 different eVTOL projects based on four basic configurations, have been announced. While wingless multi-copterconfiguration is the most favored (45%), electric helicopters are not-so-popular (3%).
There obviously are major difficulties ahead. Although, the prioritization differs from person to person, I believe that the top three are; regulatory issues, environmental effects (mostly noise) and public acceptance (due to security and privacy concerns). So, configuration of the aircraft is not among the top three challenges that UAM (Urban Air Mobility) pioneers are facing today. Why do I bring it forward, then?
Simply because, throughout the life-cycle of the aircraft, major changes on the airframe are avoided, not only due to cost or performance concerns, but also because of huge re-certification efforts required. Some minor modifications, however, such as adding winglets or external domes for sensors which are covered under supplementary type certificates (STC) are more common. Beyond that, you can easily change or upgrade almost any other component (avionics, engines, furnishing, etc.) that comes on the aircraft. So, the airframe shape or form (housing all the other components) becomes single fundamental element that will affect all; regulatory, environmental or public concerns.
Who is Doing What?
According to polls, the public tends to favor eVTOL products by well-known manufacturers vs the start-ups. So, it will be worthwhile to see which configuration the aerospace and automotive giants are preferring:
- Airbus: A³ Vahana and CityAirbus
Back in 2015, Airbus had been the first (among the traditional aerospace companies) to announce its plans to secure a place in the commercial eVTOL market. “A-cubed Vahana” is a tilt-wing (i.e. vectored thrust) aircraft project being handled by an Airbus subsidiary in the Silicon Valley. Whereas, CityAirbus is a four passenger, autonomous wingless multi-copter program ran by the Airbus Helicopters.
- Bell: Nexus and APT
Nexus is a six-passenger vectored thrust aircraft announced in 2017 Uber Elevate Summit. On the other hand, APT (Autonomous Pod Transport) is 20 to 32 kg payload tail-sitter that we can classify as a vectored thrust vehicle.
- Boeing/ Aurora: PAV and CAV
Creatively named as the Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) developed together with Aurora Flight Sciences is part of the Boeing NeXt urban air mobility project. It is a two-seat lift+push design which made its maiden flight in January 2019. Also a part of Boing NeXt, CAV (Cargo Air Vehicle) is a 225 kg payload wingless multi-copter.
- Embrarer: DreamMaker
Also announced during the 2017 Uber Elevate Summit, the DreamMaker is a piloted four passenger lift+push aircraft.
- Rolls-Royce: EVTOL
During 2018 Farnborough Airshow, Rolls-Royce announced the EVTOL concept. Rolls-Royce’s aircraft is a hybrid tilt-wing (i.e. vectored thrust) carrying 4-5 passengers.
- Lockheed Martin/ Sikorsky: VERT and ARES (with Piasecki)
Lockheed Martin and its new subsidiary Sikorsky are working on both military and commercial VTOL concepts. While Lockheed Martin is indulged in development of a vectored thrust configuration for military use together with AVX and Piasecki, Sikorsky is working on a project named VERT. And that is all we know, for the time being…
- Toyota: Cartivator SkyDrive and Joby S4 (co-investor)
In 2017 Toyota agreed to invest in Cartivator -a Japanese start-up, to develop the world’s smallest flying car. SkyDrive concept is a single-seater wingless multi-copter. Additionally, Toyota is among the investors in the Joby Aviation’s S4 program. S4 is a four-seat vectored thrust aircraft.
- Volvo/ Lotus: Terrafugia TF-2
Chinese company Zhejiang Geely, which owns the Volvo and Lotus car brands, has acquired Terrafugia in 2017. In its current form, TF-2 is rather a modal transportation “system” than a simple “air vehicle”. The flying component of the well thought-out design is a lift+push solution.
Out of the 12 (excluding Sikorsky’s VERT) vehicles above, 50% have preferred vectored thrust, while lift+push and wingless multi-copter have 25% preferences each. The choice of giants are not in-line with the alternatives preferred in the eVTOL community. So, we can easily say that the best configuration is yet to be agreed.
Basic Disadvantages of Popular Configurations
The wingless (multi-copter) designs (preferred by 45% of the whole community and 25% of aerospace and automotive giants), although very popular and made the “drone revolution” possible, are doomed due to their slow top speeds. For commercial eVTOLs, the economics of the vehicle would dictate to perform as many cycles as possible in a given time. In addition to that, large un-protected propellers placed close to the ground is a major safety concern for passengers and crew alike. Therefore, although simple and well understood, multi-copter designs will unlikely be the choice for a successful flying-car design. (Best illustrative example: EHang 184/ 216)
Despite the simplicity and weight advantages offered by lift+cruise designs (preferred by 12% of the whole community and 25% of aerospace and automotive giants), they inherently possess serious safety challenges. Un-protected (i.e. un-ducted) horizontal propellers, operating very close to ground (usually due to the size limitations of small vehicles) constitute a safety risk just like the multi-copters. Therefore, I see a bleak future for the designs utilizing unprotected props located close to ground. (Best illustrative example: Boeing/ Aurora PAV)
Vectored thrust designs (preferred by 40% of the whole community and 50% of aerospace and automotive giants), provide the best compromise between versatility and speed. But, when utilize un-protected propellers (tilt-wings mostly), they have the same disadvantages of lift+cruise designs (Best illustrative example: Airbus A³ Vahana). On the other hand, ducts employed to eliminate risks associated with props, bring in weight disadvantages and some additional drag during the cruise (Best illustrative example: Bell Nexus).
So, what is the solution? Which design will prevail? Frankly speaking, I don’t know! But, I believe that the applications employing Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) concept through small units and in large quantities are closer to an optimum solution. Such configurations give way to enclose unnecessary units during cruise in other components (i.e. wings) to reduce drag. Additionally, large amount of redundancy in propulsion system relaxes safety margins. Aurora Flight Science’s VTOL X-Plane Program XV-24A LightningStrike and Lilium’s Electric Jet are best available examples of this concept, both of which have successfully demonstrated the feasibility of the concept.
The LightningStrike program had aimed to develop a vertical take-off and landing 12,000 lb (5.4 t) demonstrator aircraft with 18 motors in the wings and 6 motors in canards, that will achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300-400 kt (555-740 km/h). A 20%-scale demonstrator aircraft weighing 325 lb (147 kg) with a flight model of the full-scale demonstrator was flown in March 2016. Surprisingly, in April 2018 it was decided that the subscale model demonstrated the program’s major objectives and DARPA cancelled the project.
Lilium’s two-seat “Eagle” prototype completed a series of unmanned test flights in April 2017. It had a total of 36 electric fans: 12 on the upper surface of each wing with tilting flaps and two rows of three fans on each side of the canard, which was designed to be retracted in cruise flight.
Until someone comes up with anti-gravity technology, I believe this is the best shape for flying-cars of urban air mobility initiative…
VTOL Aviation India Pvt. Ltd'. is a company formed to promote advanced technology products under the 'Make In India' initiative. The company is developing battery-powered eVTOL aircraft for cargo and passenger transport - a two-seat and four-seat version. They are optionally piloted and are foreseen to have commercial and defense applications.
Stage of Development
Company Name: VTOL Aviation India, in collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.
Headquarters: Navi Mumbai, India
Zephyr Airworks CEO: Kalyan Chowdhury
Type of Machine: Winged air taxi
Power: Battery-operated propellors.
Capacity: Designed for two or four passengers.
Speed: 100-250 km/hr for model 1, with a plan to increase for model 2.
Funding: $150 million already invested with a plan for $2 billion total from internal sources and bank loans.
Entry Into Service: Expected 2025
Our Take on VTOL Aviation India
VTOL Aviation India is striving to be the first in the aerospace sector to achieve the 'Make in India' goal - a government-launched initiative to encourage 100% of a product to be manufactured domestically. With Indian nationalism behind them, the company has been able to quickly develop small-scale, proof-of-concept prototypes for its take on urban air mobility. Kalyan Chowdhury, who has valuable experience in the Shipping and Logistics Industry, is advantageously teaming with resources at IITK that have the time and experience necessary for this project. The company seems to be well-poised to be a breakthrough for the aviation sector in India, though it does face strong international competition that is expected to be quicker to market. That being said, VTOL Aviation India has a steadfast commitment to safety with its focus on the vehicles' robust battery management system - any delay in entry into service compared to competitors could easily be outweighed by safer onboard systems.
The Latest News from TransportUP
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Frankfurt Airport Makes Air Taxi Integration PlansFebruary 12, 2019
Urban Air Mobility – The Quest for the Right Shape*February 11, 2019
Back to The Hangar
Airbus has recently signed on as a partner to Air Race E, which will host the world’s first electric air race series in 2020. Air Race E was created under Air Race Events, the same company that created the Air Race 1 series that many know as formula one air racing. In this sport, eight participant airplanes race around a 5km...
Airbus has recently signed on as a partner to Air Race E, which will host the world’s first electric air race series in 2020.
Air Race E was created under Air Race Events, the same company that created the Air Race 1 series that many know as formula one air racing. In this sport, eight participant airplanes race around a 5km oval circuit at just 10 meters off the ground.
Airbus is partnering with Air Race E to drive the development of efficient and well-engineered electric aircraft. According to Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology Officer of Airbus, “We want to motivate manufacturers to showcase their technologies across the full spectrum of electric propulsion systems and components. This partnership enables us to demonstrate our commitment to staying at the leading edge of electric propulsion and developing a new ecosystem.”
By testing these new technologies, Airbus most likely also hopes to push its urban air mobility capabilities forward as well. In November of 2018 at Drone Week Amsterdam, Airbus showcased the prototype of the modular vehicle Pop.Up Next, and last February it successfully flew the Airbus Vahana prototype.
Air Race E and Airbus are also working with the University of Nottingham to develop a prototype race aircraft. Part of this work has included building and designing the electric motor, as well as the battery and electronics systems:
In the past, Airbus has made other forays into electric aircraft. In 2015, it hosted the E-Fan project, which focused on building an electric aircraft to successfully cross the English channel. Since then, E-Fan leader and former CTO of Airbus John Botti left Airbus to work on the Voltaero hybrid electric aircraft. You can hear TransportUP’s podcast with Johnn Botti here.
Why it’s important: The development of urban air mobility requires tremendous growth in the electric aircraft manufacturing industry. Electric aircraft have a slew of new mechanical, aerodynamic, and legal requirements. By helping to put more electric aircraft in the air, Airbus is investing in research and technology that will greatly push forward electric urban air mobility.
This article appeared first in Fast Company, written by Ruth Reader. In 2017, Brian Chesky, CEO of home-sharing company Airbnb, pondered what the perfect flight experience would look like. Now he may finally get it. Airbnb has hired Fred Reid, an executive with deep airline and aviation experience, to head up the company’s global transportation efforts. Reid, former CEO of...
This article appeared first in Fast Company, written by Ruth Reader.
In 2017, Brian Chesky, CEO of home-sharing company Airbnb, pondered what the perfect flight experience would look like. Now he may finally get it. Airbnb has hired Fred Reid, an executive with deep airline and aviation experience, to head up the company’s global transportation efforts. Reid, former CEO of Virgin America, most recently led a unit at commercial aviation startup Kitty Hawk devoted to building an autonomous and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft; Cora.
Rumors of Airbnb’s flight ambitions first made headlines at the end of 2016. The company was reportedly considering a dabble in flight booking. There were also discussions to acquire a flight booking app and sketched drawings of Airbnb’s logo on planes, according to the Information. Around the same time, Chesky queried the masses on what the ideal flight might look like. In addition to flights, Airbnb has kicked around the idea of connecting travelers with ground transport–anything from a car to pick you up at the airport to rentals or car shares.
Ultimately, Chesky wants Airbnb to be what he calls an “end-to-end travel platform,” essentially a place where people can book all legs of a trip (a way to get there, a place to stay, stuff to do, and a way to get around). Airbnb insists it is not creating its own airline or transportation services. Instead, Reid will be in charge of forming relationships with travel companies that might eventually provide services–like flights–on Airbnb’s network.
What will that look like? Perhaps something like Experiences, Airbnb’s activity booking section. Unlike Homes, where just about anyone can post a rental, Experiences offers a more curated selection of services. “Part of the lesson I learned from Homes was: Curate the marketplace, manage it more, people have to qualify, we have to prove everybody,” Chesky told Fast Company last year. What that has meant for the company is sifting through thousands of applications, approving a small percentage, and in certain cases helping to develop experiences with third parties. That same wisdom is likely to marshal Airbnb’s approach to bringing transportation services onto its platform.
Expect an emphasis on quality and uniqueness.
In the last two years, Experiences has seen big growth. Since last year, Experiences has gone from 60 cities to 1,000 cities. There are now nearly 24,000 Experiences on Airbnb, the company says. The platform as a whole is also getting bigger. There are 5 million places to stay on Airbnb, and the company expects to hit 500 million guest arrivals through its platform by the end of the first quarter 2019. At the beginning of 2017, the company had completed 146 million guest arrivals.
Why it’s important: While AirBnB hasn’t committed to any plans or announced official work to enter the urban air mobility industry, the company’s ever increasing push to offer more than just lodging to its customers has brought the advent of “experiences”. What the company decides to do next is still up in the air – but that’s exactly where it might stay.
Content in part from WIRED Carbon fiber is one of the strongest and most lightweight materials in existence. Its prevalence has steadily grown in the past 10 years – it’s been used in everything from stunt planes to racing drones to SpaceX rockets. Many of the 100+ VTOL companies in development companies utilize carbon fiber in their designs. Carbon fiber mainly...
Content in part from WIRED
Carbon fiber is one of the strongest and most lightweight materials in existence. Its prevalence has steadily grown in the past 10 years – it’s been used in everything from stunt planes to racing drones to SpaceX rockets. Many of the 100+ VTOL companies in development companies utilize carbon fiber in their designs.
Carbon fiber mainly consists of carbon atoms, bonded together with crystals. Strips of fiber that contain these atoms are then woven together into a sheet or fabric, which can be used for civil engineering, aerospace, and more. What makes carbon advantageous over other materials is its low weight and high tensile strength.
Carbon fiber has been used in the aerospace industry for years, replacing aluminum on aircraft like the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It’s also been used in bicycles and Formula One cars, making it an ideal material for eVTOL Air Taxis. In fact, carbon fiber may be absolutely crucial to these designs, since many of them seek total or partial use of electric power. In an industry where battery technology is still evolving, designers and engineers are doing everything possible to reduce the amount of power these aircraft require to fly.
However, carbon fiber is expensive and difficult to fabricate. The process includes laying up resin-soaked carbon-fiber sheets in molds, trimming the pieces after they’ve cured in an oven, and then bonding components together. This process can take many hours and requires complex equipment. This may not mean much for aircraft like the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which are produced in relatively low volumes, but the demand for urban air taxis may be for many thousands of vehicles.
Companies from big to small recognize this problem and are trying to address it. According to Scott Drennan (vice president of innovation at Bell) including manufacturing teams in the design process is a critical component of success with composites. If the aircraft is not designed with consideration to whether or not it can be feasibly built, a great deal of time and energy is wasted rethinking tooling.
There are a number of emerging companies that employ dedicated carbon fiber fabrication processed. Among these are Game Composites, founded by Stuart Walton, which builds and sells light sports aircraft with using a myriad of carbon fiber parts. Also mentionable is recently founded Elevated Materials, which upcycles carbon fiber from the space industry, as well as North Carolina-based Blue Force Technologies, which has partnered with Beta Technologies.
Why it’s important: As the VTOL industry grows and demand for carbon fiber continues to increase, the process for mass producing these composites must evolve. While producing carbon fiber may currently be expensive and time-consuming, companies focused on making the production process more efficient are already emerging. Carbon fiber is a hurdle for the mass-production of air taxis, but also presents the opportunity for yet another innovative practice in an innovative industry.