They will not beat Ehang to the skies for pay, but Airbus is working on a couple passenger drones of their own. The Vahana comes in two flavors, single and dual passenger variants will one day help you avoid ground traffic in your city.
We attended the first ever SOAR Oregon Summit and Expo this month, it was an enlightening event in many ways. The biggest thing to note, you and I play with toy drones at home, the world of large scale and business driven drones is well beyond our backyard fliers.
Airbus is a major player in the world of passenger aircraft. They are challenging themselves, admitting that their A3 (A-Squared) division in charge of the non-piloted passenger craft is disrupting the company a little. New technology, fresh ideas to flight and more are all in the works, all in a drone.
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The Vahana is a larger craft, obviously, with simple wings and eight big propellers to get you into the air. Early specifications call for a 200lb payload in the single passenger craft, the Alpha, and 450lbs in the two seat drone, the Beta.
I dare call them out on this decision. I understand that supporting more weight means bigger motors, more power consumption with higher costs, but I am a decently fit human being that exceeds 200lbs. Maybe I’m just sad I will have to wait longer to fly, as the Alpha, single seat craft, will be produced first.
Airbus has the ultimate goal of providing short flight air travel within major cities for roughly the cost of a taxi cab today. This will be a service, there is no plan to sell these machines.
The craft itself, again comes in two variants, the single seat machine is 19 feet, 5.8 inches long, 20 feet, 6 inches wide to the wing tips and is nearly 10 feet tall. There are a number of components as yet in testing, including the motors, so a body weight is estimated only at this time, about 1,600 lbs. The larger craft does not have specifications published yet, but it was suggested that it will be as close to the same overall size of the Alpha as possible.
Airbus did not say what cities they will operate in, but their presentation included LA, New York and Paris as examples. Three cities where traffic congestion and an abundance of usable helipads and similar infrastructure already exist.
Alternative uses for the craft will be for cargo transport and medical transport.
We hope to explain in detail the particulars of a flight, one day, but the current goal is to operate within existing structure. Utilizing existing airports and aircraft landing sites all but defines the business structure. You will order a flight, head to the appropriate launch location, the craft will fly via a carefully planned route in the sky, observing other air traffic and regulations, to land you at another pre-defined location.
You can launch a toy drone from your backyard, the Airbus Vahana is no toy drone.
Stay tuned for more coverage on this machine, we are pretty excited about the idea of melding passenger flight with the small drones we can fly at home. Of course, this all hinges on the FAA relaxing the line-of-sight rules, but that’s a problem for another day.
Vahana is currently being built and tested in Oregon at one of the three UAS testing grounds in the state. Oregon is a leading state for UAS research and development, all these wonderful machines right here in my backyard. I’ll be sure to keep you all in the loop as I explore. An overview of the SOAR Oregon expo is coming soon.