Project Vahana: the electric helicopter-plane without pilot. Prototype by end of 2017
Munich, Germany - It is what CEO of Airbus Group and the representatives of A^3 say. The goal is to bring it to market's attention within 2020
A^3 -a company of Airbus Group- is developing a single passenger electric VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) plane, that will have no pilot and will be controlled by a remote system. It will be able to transport its passenger through a urban environment. The project is named "Vahana" -that in Sanskrit means a Gods' vehicle- and was born early in 2016. The CEO of Airbus Group Tom Enders talked about it in his speech at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference that took place from January 17 to 19 in Munich. Executives of A^3 -that is located in San Jose, California, and was founded in 2015 by the will of Enders himself to bring innovation from Silicon Valley into the mother company- had already published details on the project during the last months. The aircraft will be certified without pilot and will be part of the bigger ecosystem of automatic air transport that the designers believe will be the answer of aviation industry to aerial ground traffic in the biggest metropolis. The typical mission will have the following phases: a vertical takeoff, transition to forward flight, cruise for a specified distance, a transition back to a hover, and a vertical landing. The hover and transitions are assumed to each be limited in duration to about 90 seconds. The aircraft will follow a predetermined path that will modify only to avoid eventual obstacles: this mode of operation should be compatible with the software systems that in the future will manage airspace traffic. The chief executive of the project Zach Lovering explained in a post that the developers team decided to compare the two VTOL configurations that are better suited to the electric propulsion and to the mission specifiations: the electric helicopter and an Eight Independent Fan Tilt-Wing. Designers expect many advantages from this second configuration, which is the one they are developing. The tilt-wing -instead of the tilt-rotor- will allow a better maneuverability while cruising, and energy saving during take off and landing. The eight rotors configuration will keep the "footprint" of the aircraft tight, and will guarantee redundancy in the event of failure. Rotors are in fact independent and each one is able to provide 1.7 times the needed power during hover. To modifying inflow and thrust according to the different needs of hover and forward flight, rotors will have variable pitch and will be provided with a dedicated actuator. Automation will allow to build a small and light aircraft -reducing construction costs- and will help to avoid human mistakes during flight. In the extreme urgencies, the aircraft will have a ballistic parachute. To size wing area, aspect ratio, engine and battery size numerical optimization techniques were used. Rodin Lyasoff -CEO of A^3- announced that vehicle design is completed, as well as many critical subsystems, of which some were even procured. A number of partners were found to build the first airframe. The prototype is expected by end of 2017 for the first tests. The presentation to the market is foreseen within 2020. Several companies are developing -and some of them even built- similar prototypes. The same Airbus has other parallel projects -Skyways, City Airbus, zenAircity- with which Vahana might in the future integrate. It is a demonstration of how new technologies are opening sceneries that until now were just science fiction to aviation industry.
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