The Airbus A3 Vahana project started in 2015 in a Silicon Valley (Northern California, USA) in a innovation center of Airbus to develop an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for people to replace cars and train travel for short-range advanced air mobility (AAM), formerly called urban air mobility (UAM). The team consisted of 100 personnel, over 130 test flights A3 is pronounced A-cubed and Vahana means vehicle in Sanskrit. The A3 project ended in December 2019.
Airbus SE was founded on December 18, 1970 as is headquartered in Leiden, Netherlands, with offices and manufacturing facilities throughout Europe. Airbus SE is Europe's largest aerospace company and a 2019 article shows that Airbus is the largest aerospace company, in terms of revenue, in the world. Annual revenue for 2021 for the company was €52.15 billion and the company employs over 126,000 people. The business units for the company are in commercial aircraft, helicopters, defense and space. Airbus is a largest airliner manufacturer in the world and has has the highest sales in revenue for helicopters and turbine deliverers in the world.
The Airbus A³ Vahana (pronounced “Acubed”) Alpha One is a full-scale self-piloting eVTOL canard tilt-wing demonstrator which has eight propellers and eight electric motors for propulsion in all directions. The vehicle uses eight 60 hp (45 kw) motors situated on one forward and one rear tilt-wings. Approximately one-third of its mass is batteries weighing in at 600 lb (272 kg). Its sensor suite employs cameras as well as active Lidar and radar. It has a crash rated seat and an emergency ballistic parachute that works effectively even at a low altitude. The aircraft has fixed-skid type landing gear which keeps complexity and weight down to to a minimum.
The Vahana project's goal is to design and build an eVTOL aircraft fly a single passenger or cargo autonomously along a predetermined flight path. The aircraft follows only predetermined flight paths and can make minor deviations should obstacle avoidance be necessary. As of February 2019, the program had flown more than 50 hours with the first uncrewed demonstrator.
On January 30, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Evaluation was successfully completed, resulting in a Special Airworthiness Certificate for the Vahana Alpha One aircraft, tail number N301VX. A³ Vahana’s first test flight occurred January 31, 2018, at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport (Pendleton, Oregon, USA).
The full sized Alpha One demonstrator flew autonomously to a height of 16 feet (5 m) for 53 seconds. On Feb. 22, 2019, Airbus announced, "To date we’ve flown 50 full-scale test flights totaling over five 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" (57.5 mph, 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 tasks:
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.
To stay current with the latest in eVTOL technology with Airbus, please see the Acubed Vahana website.
Aircraft type: eVTOL uncrewed demonstrator
First flight: 2018
Piloting: Remote controlled
Capacity: No passengers
Cruise speed: 124 mph (200 km/h, 110 kt)
Range with reserves: 30 miles (60 km)
Flight Time: Unknown
Cruise altitude: 5,000 ft at 95°F, (1,524 m at 35°C)
Empty weight: 1,050 lb (475 kg)
Maximum payload: 200 lb (90 kg)
Maximum takeoff weight: 1,800 lb (815 kg)
Propellers: 8 propellers
Electric Motors: 8 electric motors
Motor output: 8 x 60 hp (8 x 45 kW)
Power source: Battery packs
Fuselage: Carbon fiber composite
Fuselage length: 18.75 ft (5.7 m)
Overall height: 9.275 ft (2.81 m)
Wingspan: 20.6 ft (6.25 m)
Tip-to-tip distance: 18.75 ft (5.7 m )
Windows: Canopy over cockpit
Wings: Canard tilt wing, each wing can tilt independently
Landing gear: Fixed skid-type landing gear
Safety features: Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers (or ducted fans) and motors on the aircraft so if one or more propellers (ducted fans) or motors fail, the other working propellers (or ducted fans) and motors can safely land the aircraft.
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