There have been several technological improvements in the aircraft sector that have advanced the realisation of concepts. One such development in the field that has the potential to transform air travel over metropolitan areas is the eVTOL aircraft. Many different eVTOL variants have been prototyped and tested over the past few years.
There are already more than 250 different eVTOL designs on the market as a consequence of numerous product reforms, patent filings, design advances, and testing that led to the emergence of several eVTOL businesses. The majority of investments have been made to enhance aircraft performance, power output, and design.
The focus on operator and passenger safety has driven the aviation industry to develop more variants to meet various client expectations. eVTOL aircraft are likely to be employed for both cargo and passenger transport.
What are the breakthroughs in powering eVTOLs?
- The capabilities of onboard electric power and battery technology determine the functions that eVTOLs can perform.
- Power is needed during the critical flying phases, including takeoff, landing, and flight (especially in high wind conditions).
- There is a “Diamond Nuclear Voltaic (DNV) technology” that produces self-charging batteries out of tiny amounts of radioactive carbon-14 waste encapsulated in stacked industrial diamonds.
- Depending on the flight mission, several industry experts are looking at hybrid technologies like hydrogen cells and batteries instead of solely using batteries.
Some prominent use-cases of eVTOL
1. eVTOL in transportation
When Uber first announced its air taxi business, Uber Elevate (now owned by Joby Aviation), it looked like a lofty goal. But recently, a lot of aerospace enterprises have started focusing on developing air taxis to cater to a specific demographic of passengers. Reportedly, the infrastructure expenses for air taxis will be significantly lower and still more effective than those for terrestrial transportation. It will be of great assistance in areas with high commuter demand and limited supply.
2. Emergency medical care using eVTOL
According to an ongoing research project by Urban Aeronautics, CityHawk Vehicle, eVTOL ambulances could speed up favourable results in more than half of cardiac arrest cases by reducing the time it takes for emergency medical personnel to arrive on the scene. In distant places, specifically, enhanced mobility vehicles can cut the time needed for medical tests and supplies from hours to just 15 minutes.
3. Search and rescue with eVTOL
eVTOL can improve search and rescue efforts. Because of its ability to travel over new territory and additional characteristics like visual help, it can locate people who are trapped in debris following disasters like landslides, fires, or earthquakes.
Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are being developed to be less expensive and noisier than conventional helicopters. Many challenges face the industry as a whole, despite the efforts of hundreds of tech businesses throughout the world to pioneer eVTOL vehicles.
What then, are the proposed challenges?
The VFS (Vertical Flight Society) states that existing heliports will have to change to vertiports, which are landing areas for helicopters and various other VTOLs or rotorcraft. Although most modern heliports can accommodate eVTOL aircraft, they sometimes lack charging facilities.
The architecture and engineering design firm PS&S attempts to pave the way with vertiport concepts for urban, suburban, and waterfront settings. Each of these plans features terminals where passengers can wait for their flights as well as landing pads and charging stations.
Other industry titans are utilising the conversion of vacant parking garages into vertiports in urban areas, such as Archer Aviation and REEF Technology. The upgrading of rooftop access for eVTOLs in North America will be considered for REEF’s current 4,800 parking garages.
2. Regulations and Standards
eVTOLs are now found in an odd place within the aerospace sector. Since they aren’t quite helicopters or aeroplanes, authorities struggle to implement these cutting-edge aircraft according to established government laws.
However, that being said, the FAA stated that it would create additional powered-lift regulations “to securely enable innovation” for “operations and pilot training” in addition to certifying eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft, a category that already exists.
3. Public Acceptance
When it comes to creating any form of vehicle, safety is always put first. Due to the fact that eVTOLs are a more recent technological advancement, the general public may be apprehensive of the risks associated with using them, but this may primarily be due to unfamiliarity.
Electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft are currently being valued at some astounding levels. The market value of Joby, an air taxi with a tilting rotor, is $5.5 billion. Lilium is valued at $2.7 billion and is propelled forward by 34 electric turbofans in unison. Another tilting rotor air taxi, Archer, has a $1.4 billion market value.
China’s Ehang, which is valued at $1.4 billion, is also testing an autonomous air taxi with blades that passengers must carefully wade over to enter the cabin. Although Blade Air Mobility is more of a luxury air travel Uber than an eVTOL company, it has a valuation of little around $700 million.
Despite huge interest in this “niche” category of transport, apprehensions about the successful integration of eVTOLs in the aviation ecosystem still remain.
Currently, the whole yearly market for helicopters, including commuter models, military gear, and other types, is only $42 billion, the majority of which goes to the military. Many of the tasks that helicopters once performed are now delegated to unmanned aerial vehicles. Only Statista seems to comprehend that the manned rotorcraft business isn’t expanding because it forecasts an 18% fall in military sales from 2019 to 2029.
Compared to fixed-wing aircraft, normal rotorcraft typically need four to five hours of maintenance for every hour of flying. Because tilt wing rotorcraft have more complex failure scenarios, they often need extensive maintenance. The engines and drivetrains of conventional helicopters are significantly more complex than electric drivetrains, yet rotorcraft are difficult, and converting rotorcraft to horizontal flight with lifting surfaces is challenging.
The unfortunate reality of EVTOLs is that travelling up and down and forward while using rotors both demand a significant amount of energy. A classic cliche within aviation circles says helicopters force the air to allow them to fly. When flying forward, the range can be increased by tilting the rotors to a horizontal position and using the wings and body lifting surfaces.
Regardless of the pros and cons, the eVTOL industry is poised to become mainstream at least by the 2030s.
Consistent laws are essential to preserve security and address possible problems, just like in any emerging industry. Together, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are drafting safety requirements for these new vehicles and their accompanying infrastructure in the case of eVTOL.
COVER: Aviation Week