Multicopters growing wings
By Dean Sigler 15th April 2022 Sustainable Skies
eHang and Volocopter are growing wings on their eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) craft. It’s a demonstrable fact that fixed wing aircraft usually have great range and endurance than rotary wing aircraft. What if we combine the best of multicopter utility and fixed wing range?
Electric multicopters are usually short-range vehicles that have a possible future in urban skies (although Joby has demonstrated over 150 mile flights). The requirement that they lift off from buildings or constrained areas contributes to their short range. Hauling all those batteries and passengers is a near-full power exercise every time, with reserve power enabling climbs to low-altitude city crossings.
Proposed longer-range sky taxis from two makers are sprouting wings. eHang and Volocopter both have new craft that will allow greater speed and range.
eHang has succeeded in flying everyone from its board of directors to thousands of willing participants in very public fashion. This shows a willingness to display its technology and wow the crowds. Its latest eVTOL expands the company’s offerings and the aircraft’s range. A typical display has a half-dozen EH216s hovering over a seaside resort.
These are short-range craft by design, intended for urban skies. eHang has something a little grander in mind for its latest machine. The company predicts, “VT-30 will complement EH216, a product focusing on intra-city air mobility, to further expand the air transportation network and improve the future urban air mobility (“UAM”) ecosystem
In its reveal of the VT-30 a year ago, the firm said it was, “The first in eHang’s product suite that is designed for inter-city transportation.” Describing it as their “flagship product” and a “hybrid structure,” the firm claims a range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a flight time of 100 minutes.
Fixed wings, a “combined lifting rudder surface at the tail,” a streamlined fuselage, eight lift propellers, and a pusher propeller comprise the VT-30. eHang describes it as achieving a “maximum balance of lift and push,” able “to enjoy the advantage of both vertical and taxi take-off / landing modes.” A redundant fly-by-wire system offers “multiple modes” and a high safety level.
Designed to travel among city clusters, the VT-30 can carry two in comfort, with low noise and zero emissions. On a typical trip, it could fly between Hong Kong and Macao, a little over 23 miles, in just minutes. Compared to the only other mode, a municipal train which takes over two hours, eHang has a great advantage.
Mr. Huazhi Hu, Founder, Chairman and CEO of EHang, sees the complementary nature of the EH216 and VT-30 as offering an integrated solution to urban and regional transportation. “Moving forward, these two product series will be used as core development for a service-oriented operations strategy to improve the safety, duration and capacity for carrying both passengers and goods. We will work continuously to obtain regulatory certification for our various AAV products, including the VT-30, and provide a more convenient and efficient public urban air mobility operational services
Volocopter’s promotion for their VoloConnect says it all. “TO CITIES – AND BEYOND. Bigger and better. VoloConnect will act as an adjunct to the recently shown VoloCity, carrying on the 18-rotor configuration common to all Volocopter designs so far.
“If you were impressed by the multirotor system in our VoloCity and VoloDrone, then you’ll be wowed by the other ace up our sleeve: our VoloConnect. This fixed-wing aircraft runs on two propulsion fans and six electric motors and rotors. The resulting lift-and-cruise design will be able to accommodate up to four passengers, swiftly ferrying them as much as 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, with a maximum airspeed of 250 kilometers per hour (155 mph) and a cruise speed of 180 km/h (112 mph).”
As with the eHang offering, “VoloConnect will bring communities closer together by bridging the gap between cities and their suburbs.” Its fixed-wing configuration and large ducted fans will probably help it reach its claimed cruise and top speeds and predicated range.
Backing those ambitions, Aviation Capital Group (ACG), “Have entered into an agreement in principle to develop financing solutions that will assist with the sale of Volocopter’s family of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for up to USD 1 billion.” Volocopter will begin deliveries once certification by civil aviation authorities takes place. Agencies include the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This puts Volocopter into the growing club of electric aircraft “unicorns,” those companies worth at least $1 billion.
Volocopter has developed VoloIQ (an integrated software network) and VoloPort vertiports to provide users with a “seamless” experience. Much like eHang with its control centers, the network and physical infrastructure will expedite dispatching on-call aerial trips and monitor vehicle and system health.
As these systems begin sending people to urban, suburban, and even rural destinations, some over-riding system will be required to ensure communication and cooperation among the competing carriers. This may end up being a bigger achievement than the eVTOLs themselves.