Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor Vertiflite, November/December 2021
On Sept. 21, as part of its Airbus Summit 2021, Airbus revealed images and specifications of a new clean-sheet passenger eVTOL design for advanced air mobility (AAM). The CityAirbus NextGen features high-mounted fixed-wings, a V-shaped tail, and eight electrically powered propellers, each of which have four blades. The propellers do not tilt; instead, the two rear propellers are tilted forward to provide forward thrust. With this configuration, the aircraft has an expected maximum range of 80 km (49.7 mi), a cruise speed of 120 km/h (65 kt), and a four-seat capacity. The unveiling of the CityAirbus NextGen was a highlight of the Airbus Summit 2021, a multi-day event that addressed issues of sustainability and energy efficiency in the aviation industry. Airbus envisions that the CityAirbus NextGen will be an ideal vehicle to meet emerging urban transportation needs in a manner that is conscious of environmental and social concerns.
The CityAirbus NextGen is the product of several years of work on eVTOL aircraft and concepts at the company. It is Airbus’s third passenger eVTOL design and the second aircraft in the CityAirbus series. With four pairs of ducted fans, the first-generation CityAirbus was a multicopter that was only capable of hovering and translational (not wingborne) flight, unlike the CityAirbus NextGen. The CityAirbus made its official debut in March 2019 and conducted its maiden flight later that year. Speaking at the European Rotorcraft Forum on Sept. 9 (see “47th ERF Is a Virtual Success!”), Tomasz Krysinski, vice president of research and innovation at Airbus, said that the CityAirbus was nearing the end of its flight trials and described the data collected during the program as “very valuable.” The Airbus A³ Vahana, the other eVTOL developed by the company, was an eight-propeller tilt-wing eVTOL. Unveiled in 2016, the Vahana conducted more than 50 hours of flight tests on its two demonstrator aircraft in the US before Airbus finished the program in early 2019.
Airbus’s experience with the CityAirbus and Vahana flight tests informed its approach to NextGen, particularly as it relates to noise and concepts of operations. Airbus has conducted 242 ground and flight tests on the CityAirbus and Vahana aircraft, totaling approximately 620 miles (1,000 km). Speaking in a panel at Airbus Summit 2021, Airbus Urban Mobility GmbH Managing Director Joerg P. Mueller said noise mitigation is “fundamental” to the design of the NextGen, given that it is expected to be “tailored” for an urban mission, one in which it will undoubtedly operate close to residences and businesses. Past flight trials have involved operating Airbus’s eVTOL demonstrator aircraft over people to evaluate the noise levels and the effect it has on those on the ground. Mueller said that the Airbus team is aiming for a maximum of 65 dB during flyover and 70 dB during takeoff and landing. Airbus’s experience with Voom, a helicopter ride-hailing service that it shuttered in 2020, also contributed to the design of the NextGen in terms of understanding passenger expectations.
The CityAirbus NextGen is part of a broader Airbus strategy for addressing sustainability concerns and next-generation AAM challenges. In its annual report published in March 2021, the company identified AAM as a “key element in Airbus Helicopters’ zero emission strategy,” a multi-pronged effort involving the development of sustainable aviation fuels and hybrid and electric propulsion systems. “We are on a quest to co-create an entirely new market that sustainably integrates urban air mobility into the cities while addressing environmental and social concerns,” Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, said in a statement. Airbus aims to develop a flying prototype of the NextGen by 2023, paving the way for certification around 2025. Learn more in the VFS World eVTOL Aircraft Directory, available at www.evtol.news.
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