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A³ Vahana

Airbus Vahana

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 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.

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.

To stay current with the latest in eVTOL technology with Airbus, they provide the Vahana and Wayfinder websites.

A³ Vahana Characteristics (updated May 2018):

  Alpha   Beta
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
Power type electric/batteries   electric/batteries
First Flight 2018   2018