Airbus Awards Flight Testing Contract for Autonomous Air Taxi

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | November 7, 2016
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[Avionics Magazine 11-7-2016] A³, the advanced projects branch of Airbus Group based in Silicon Valley, has awarded a flight-testing contract for its pilotless air taxi concept aircraft, the Vahana. The contract was awarded to Alexandria, Virginia-based engineering and technology solutions company Modern Technology Solutions, Inc. (MTSI), and their partner, SOAR Oregon (SOAR).
Vahana aircraft concept. Photo: A³.
Vahana is a self-piloted flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport. It seeks to advance automated electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight for the emerging on-demand aerial mobility market, according to Project Vahana. The Vahana aircraft will follow predetermined flight paths, with only minor deviations if obstacle avoidance is needed, the Project Vahana website says. The Silicon Valley arm of Airbus unveiled the first conceptual drawings of Vahana in September, after releasing minor details on the project earlier this year. 
“The aircraft we’re building doesn’t need a runway, is self-piloted, and can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircraft. Designed to carry a single passenger or cargo, we’re aiming to make it the first certified passenger aircraft without a pilot. We aim to fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017, and to have a productizable demonstrator by 2020,” Rodin Lyasoff, CEO of A³ said of Vahana in a September 2016 blog post. 

The contract awarded to MTSI covers the prototype Alpha Phase, which seeks to identify and resolve major technical and certification risks, culminating in a flight test demonstration at the end of 2017. MTSI will lead the flight-testing effort, while their partner SOAR Oregon will provide test range support and other services. 

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