Airbus outpost A3 has been insisting its Vahana prototype aircraft will make its first flight before the end of 2017. An electric, autonomous vertical takeoff and landing, passenger-carrying future aircraft concept, Vahana went from conceptual drawings to ready for flight in just over a year.
A3 said Monday that a full-scale Vahana recently arrived at its Pendleton Hangar at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport. The aircraft went from A3’s facility in Santa Clara, California, to Oregon where it currently awaits flight testing. Vahana’s fuselage was shipped on the ground. Motors, propellers and other comments were driven by the Vahana team in a support trailer. The company said Vahana was specifically designed for rapid disassembly and reassembly, so it took less than a day after the aircraft arrived to put it back together. Then, the team installed the high-voltage power system and motors, which A3 said was a “major milestone.”
The flight test team has already demonstrated its first end-to-end flight test simulation, A3 said. Using a combination of real and simulated data, the team was able to verify aspects of the avionics, software and communications.
Airbus in general is in the midst of a major push for electric aircraft. The company’s CTO, Paul Eremenko, said in June that Airbus’ ultimate goal is to develop a completely new, single-aisle aircraft that is powered by hybrid electric propulsion technology. Along with everything else Airbus and A3 have in the works, the company is working on the development of a demonstrator aircraft called the “E-Fan X.”
“A few years ago the state of the art of flight weight components were measured in the 10s of kilowatts. Today it is in the 100s of kilowatts, and we believe with a strong push we could demo a two-megawatt flight weight hybrid electric power system in about three years,” Eremenko said on the second day of the 2017 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aviation Forum.
“The ultimate prize for us is to enable a hybrid electric propulsion architecture for a single-aisle aircraft at the scale of an A320 family. This takes us into the power range of around 20 megawatts for cruise and 40 megawatts for power,” he added, noting that he would not predict a date for the first flight of such an aircraft.