Airbus conducted the first successful test flight of its Vahana electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft on January 31st, the aerospace giant announced. At 8:52AM, the full-scale vehicle reached a modest height of five meters (16 feet) before descending safely. The self-piloted flight only lasted 53 seconds, but it is a reminder that “flying taxi” mobility projects we hear a lot about these days, while sounding ludicrous, can’t be easily dismissed as vaporware.
Airbus has said it wants to build a fleet of autonomous, multirotor eVTOL aircraft that can be used to fly from rooftop to rooftop in dense cities where traffic is often at a standstill. The project launched in early 2016 as one of the first pursuits of A³ (pronounced “A cubed”), its Silicon Valley-based subsidiary. (Vahana is a Sanskrit word that refers to the vehicle or mount of a god.) Since then, the company has reported regular updates, including a concept video of the user experience.
The full-scale demonstrator, dubbed Alpha One, was originally scheduled to take flight by the end of 2017. The vehicle was recently moved from California to a new flight test center in Pendleton, Oregon, where it conducted this week’s demonstration. A³ has said it plans to have a production-ready version by 2020. According to the company, Alpha One is 20.3 feet wide, 18.7 feet long, 9.2 feet tall, and weighs 1,642 pounds.
“Our aim has long been to design and build a single passenger electric VTOL self-piloted aircraft that will answer the growing need for urban mobility,” Zach Lovering, project executive at Vahana, said in a blog post. “Our goal is to democratize personal flight by leveraging the latest technologies such as electric propulsion, energy storage, and machine vision. Our first flights mark a huge milestone for Vahana as well as the global pursuit of urban air mobility.”