A³ by Airbus
San Jose, California, USA
The Airbus A³ Vahana (pronounced “A-cubed”) is a full-scale prototype self-piloting electric 8-prop tilt wing vehicle. It is intended to fly a single passenger or cargo along a predetermined flight path. As of Feb. 2019, the program had flown more than 50 hours with the first unmanned demonstrator, Alpha One, and rolled out the second, dubbed Alpha Two.
The vehicle uses eight 60 hp (45 kW) motors situated on forward and rear tilt-wings. Approximately one-third of its mass is its batteries (600 lb / 272 kg). Its sensor suite employs cameras as well as active Lidar and Radar. It has a crash rated seat and a ballistic parachute intended to work even at a low altitude.
The A³ Vahana’s goal is to be utilized specifically as a single (eventually double) seated air taxi for urban mobility. Flying autonomously, it will follow only predetermined flight paths making minor deviations should obstacle avoidance be necessary.
A³ Vahana’s first test flight occurred Jan. 31, 2018, at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport. The full sized “Alpha One” prototype flew autonomously to a height of 5 m (16 ft) for 53 seconds. On Feb. 22, 2019, Airbus announced, “To date we’ve flown 50 full-scale test flights totaling over 5 flight hours (our sub-scale model has flown 1,277 test flights and over 51 flight hours!). More flights are planned through at least the first half of this year as the team studies and checks flight controls, navigation, failure detection and mitigation as well as noise during flight.” The post also noted that the Alpha One could conduct “flight times in excess of seven minutes and speeds in excess of 50 kts” (92.6 km/h).
Flight test and range services were provided by Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI) and
contributed to the A³ Vahana reaching its first flight milestone by performing the following
- Coordinated and presented a Safety Evaluation resulting the award of a Special Airworthiness
Certificate – Experimental.
- Served as Test Director during flight and ground tests.
- Authored Flight Test Plans and Ground Test Plans that captured test objectives and test
requirements for an evolving experimental platform.
- Authored the Flight Manual, Maintenance Program Manual, Vehicle Maintenance Logs, and Standard Operating Procedures for flight test.
- Design, assembly, installation, and programming of an instrumentation pallet monitoring critical
subsystems with the assistance of Advanced Aircraft Equipment LLC and Adjutant Engineering LLC.
- Completion of Safety Review Boards for Test Range approval from NexGen UAS Range Management and the City of Pendleton, Oregon, USA.
Project Vahana began as one of the first projects of the Advanced Projects and Partnerships Outpost of the Airbus Group in California’s Silicon Valley. The group is intended to operate with strong innovative concepts and more aggressive timescales than traditional industry. When the program was unveiled, Airbus said it planned to have a demonstrator by 2020 that can be put into production and capable of delivering more than 1 billion flight hours every year.
On May 20, 2019, a new Vahana article reveals that Alpha Two is a full-scale demonstrator, has a finished interior and is located in Pendleton, Oregon, USA. The article has multiple pictures of the aircraft . By having a second complete full-scale vehicle, Vahana states they achieved two primary objectives: 1) They have a complete set of spares if needed and 2) They can now experiment with the passenger experience.
One of the pictures of the Alpha Two aircraft, below, you’ll see a close-up view of the front of the aircraft. That equipment is part of the system that Vahana uses to sense and avoid obstacles in the air. This aircraft will be completely autonomous and in addition, the aircraft will have to be able to sense ground infrastructure, other eVTOL aircraft, drones, airplanes, helicopters, birds, wires, trees, weather conditions and more. In addition, the aircraft has to autonomously avoid all obstacles during take-off, forward flight and when landing and be extremely fast in all the phases of flight. A complete article on Airbus’ technology to handle these enormous tasks is here online.
A³ Vahana Characteristics (updated May 2018)
|Passenger capacity||1 (unmanned)||2|
|Fuselage length||18.75 ft||5.7 m||19.5 ft||5.86 m|
|Overall height||9.275 ft||2.81 m||9.275 ft||2.81 m|
|Wingspan||20.6 ft||6.25 m||20.6 ft||6.25 m|
|Tip-to-tip distance||18.75 ft||5.7 m||18.75 ft||5.7 m|
|Empty weight||1,050 lb||475 kg||1,050 lb||475 kg|
|Max gross takeoff wt||1,800 lb||815 kg||1,800 lb||815 kg|
|Useful load||200 lb||90 kg||450 lb||200 kg|
|Range, with reserves||30 mi||60 km||60 mi||100 km|
|Altitude||5,000 ft (at 95 °F)||1,524 m (at 35 °C)||10,000 ft (at 95 °F)||3,048 m (at 35 °C)|
|Cruise speed||110 kt||200 km/h||125 kt||230 km/h|
|Propulsors||8 propellers||8 propellers|
|Motor output||8 x 60 hp||8 x 45 kW||8 x 60 hp||8 x 45 kW|
- Search eVTOL news posts
- A³ Vahana website
- A³ by Airbus Wayfinder website
- Airbus website: Rethinking Urban Air Mobility, June 2017
- A³ by Airbus Media website
- Vahana post: “Step Inside Alpha Two“, Medium, May 20, 2019
- Vahana post: Flight Test Update: 50 Flights, Medium, Feb. 22, 2019
- Vahana post: Exploring Sense-and-Avoid Systems for Autonomous Vehicles, Medium, Dec. 20, 2017
- Article: Vahana Soars in its First Fully Self-Piloted Flight, PR Newswire, Feb. 16, 2018
- Article: Airbus A³’s Vahana Electric Air Taxi Has a Single Screen Pilotless Cockpit, Rotor & Wing International, May 21, 2019
- Article: Watch Vahana’s flying car transition from VTOL to forward flight mode, New Atlas, Feb. 24, 2019
- Article: Before They Take Off Flying Cars Must Defeat Bureaucracy, Wired, Feb. 15, 2018
- Article: Airbus Vahana eVTOL Aircraft Completes First Full-Scale Test Flight, DefPost, Feb. 3, 2018
- Article: First flight of the A³ Vahana eVTOL tiltwing, Vertipedia, Jan. 2018
- Article: Air Mobility Bonanza Beckons Electric VTOL Developers, Vertiflite, Mar./Apr. 2017
- Article: The Demand for On-Demand Mobility, Vertiflite, Jan./Feb. 2017
- Video: Vahana Alpha 50 kt (92 kmh/50 mph) Transition To Flight, Pendelton, Oregon, USA, Feb. 22, 2019
- Video: Vahana – Passenger Experience, Vahana, Jun. 16, 2017