Airbus Helicopters recently completed ground testing for its CityAirbus urban air mobility (UAM) technology demonstrator and is progressing toward first flight this spring.
The CityAirbus demonstrator is part of an Airbus strategy to explore the potential of UAM by pushing the limits of technology in the fields of connectivity, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and electric propulsion. Developed at Airbus Helicopters’ factory in Donauwörth, Germany, the four-seat, electrically powered, eight-rotor aircraft that can take off and land vertically. It is designed to transport passengers in fully automated flight in large cities to major destinations via fixed routes, such as from the city center to the airport.
Ground run tests started February 4. Following a first takeoff and short stationary flight in Donauwörth, the next step will be the first flight of the demonstrator, said Marius Bebesel, responsible for the CityAirbus project. Bebesel estimated that flight might be completed between April and May in Manching, another Airbus facility in Germany.
The flight-test campaign will comprise automatic takeoff, acceleration, flying at cruise speed. Engineers will start at a 50 km/h speed and steadily increase to 80 km/h. “The final commercial vehicle will have a cruise speed of 120 km/h with a 30 km range,” said Bebesel.
Takeoff weight of the demonstrator is around 2.2 tons, while the final vehicle will weight around 1.8 to 1.9 tons. Price target is less than €1 million ($1.129 million U.S.) per vehicle.
The main challenge for Airbus, however, lies in safely integrating this new class of vehicles in the urban environment and in the air traffic. A proof of concept ready for commercial operation is scheduled for 2020, though the commercial entry-in-service could take place in the middle of the next decade.
Airbus created a new UAM Unit in June 2018 to host its on-going UAM activities across the company, from CityAirbus to Voom, an on-demand helicopter mobility service in Brazil and Mexico. Airbus A3 in Silicon Valley is developing a single-seater, electrically powered aircraft equipped with rotors and tilt-wings