The race is on for the “Uber of the skies,” self-piloting air taxis that will quickly transport you from one spot to another with a simple app on your phone. A startup founded by aerospace giant Airbus has a project in development named Vahana, and it recently completed a test flight of its prototype flying car at an airport in Oregon.
Vahana is a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) single-passenger design with wings and tail sections that rotate from vertical to horizontal as the aircraft lands and takes off. In a statement, the company announced that the electric plane had completed two successful test flights, rising to a height of 16 feet for a duration of 53 seconds.
The aircraft is 20 feet long and almost 19 feet wide, with a projected battery range of 62 miles. The VTOL design will allow is to take off and land in small areas like a parking lot or skyscraper roof. “In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” said Zach Lovering of Vahana.
Although the prototype only hovered for about a minute, Vahana’s ambitious goal is to bring its autonomous flying car to market by 2020. Further tests will involve transitioning from vertical to forward flight. Officials from the FAA were also on hand to witness the test flights at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range.
Boeing, Airbus’ biggest rivals, recently acquired Aurora Flight Science, which has worked with Uber on the Elevate project. Uber is planning a flying taxi service in Dubai, Dallas, and even Los Angeles as soon as 2020.
California-based Joby Aviation, which just got a $100 million boost from Toyota, has its own electric flying taxi program in development as well. Surefly is a hybrid gas/electric prototype personal drone with a built-in ejector seat in case things go wrong. The Volocopter “super drone” has 18 rotors, but can only travel 17 miles.
Everyone wants to take to the skies, but with so many companies eyeing the potential for personal air travel, the friendly skies could get awful crowded very quickly.