This week marked a milestone for Airbus Ventures’ Vahana team, which is developing a self-flying, electric-powered air taxi — also known as a flying car.
Vahana’s 20-foot-wide Alpha One prototype executed its first test flight at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range in eastern Oregon, rising to a height of 16 feet (5 meters) during 53 seconds in the air on Wednesday morning. Another test flight came a day later, Vahana project leader Zach Lovering reported in a Medium posting.
Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and Airbus’ A3 advanced-projects division were in attendance, along with the full Vahana team, Lovering said.
“In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” he said in a news release.
Lovering said there’ll be further milestones ahead:
“Following the completion of this successful test, the Vahana team will continue development and perform further flight tests to transition and forward flight. We also have identified a new partner for our motors, MAGicALL. The California-based company designs and manufactures custom, cutting-edge components (motors, generators, inductors, transformers, etc.) with impressive performance on rapid and affordable delivery schedules. We will begin using the MAGicALL motors soon, and will provide additional technical details and insight.”
Vahana’s all-electric air taxi is designed for vertical takeoff and landing, with a battery range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). Once it enters service, passengers would use smartphone apps to book rides, a la Uber.
Uber is among the other top players in a competition to field electric-powered air taxis. During last month’s CES electronics show, one of Uber’s aviation partners, Bell Helicopter, showed off a passenger cabin mockup for the vehicle it’s developing. Uber is aiming to demonstrate air taxi services in Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Dubai in 2020, and start commercial flights by 2023.
“There will be people flying around Dallas, Texas,” Uber CEO Dana Khosrowshahi said last week during a tech conference in Germany. “I think it’s going to happen within the next ten years.”
Other flying car ventures include Joby Aviation, which just reported a $100 million investment round, Terrafugia, VerdeGo Aero, Kitty Hawk, China’s EHang, Switzerland’s Passenger Drone, Germany’s Volocopter and Lilium, Slovakia’s AeroMobil and Japan’s Cartivator Project.