Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace has test flown the UK’s first full-scale, fully electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The unmanned technology demonstrator aircraft weighs 750kg and flew across Cotswold Airport in Kemble, Gloucestershire in June 2018 as part of the company’s flight test programme. Founded by OVO Energy CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick, the company’s mission is to provide personal, on-demand and carbon-free air travel between cities.
Annual air passenger journeys have exploded in recent years and are expected to almost double to 7.2bn by 2035. Much of this growth is in short-haul journeys. As a result, road, rail, and airport infrastructure are under intense pressure, end-to-end journeys are taking longer and air travel is becoming increasingly disastrous for the environment. Vertical Aerospace wants to help address these challenges and revolutionize how people travel.
Vertical Aerospace was founded by OVO Energy’s Stephen Fitzpatrick in 2016, and now has a core of 28 engineers and technicians recruited from the ranks of Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Martin Jet Pack, DarkTrace and General Electric. In the last 12 months, the company has put together a slick-looking full-scale eVTOL demonstrator, secured test flight permission from the Civil Aviation Authority and got it airborne above Cotswold Airport in Kimble, Gloucestershire.
“We’ve learned a lot from Formula 1, both in terms of technology and pace of development,” said Fitzpatrick. “The lightweight materials, aerodynamics and electrical systems developed through F1 are highly applicable to aircraft, much more so than to road transport. By putting those technologies in the hands of experienced aerospace engineers, we can build cutting-edge aircraft for the 21st Century.”
Not too much has been revealed about the three-wheeled, battery-powered demonstrator, other than it weighs 750 kg (1,650 lb), has four three-blade rotors in a two-by-two configuration that lift it into the air and is currently reported capable of spending just 5 minutes aloft but can fly forward at up to 80 km/h (50 mph). However, the focus of rolling out the prototype was not range and speed, but to prove the full-scale concept.
Of course, Vertical Aerospace is not the only company looking into the viability of short-haul air taxis, with Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, and Uber being among numerous firms currently looking into providing such services.