THE FUTURE OF AVIATION WITH AIRBUS' CITYAIRBUS
Visions of episodes of the Jetsons and 1960s comic books come to mind with the announcement that Airbus’ plans to put a self-flying “bus” in the air.
By: Johnny Duncan
Many technological advances often mimic fantasy, and this Airbus project is one of those advances. Its CityAirbus program successfully completed its “power on” of the “iron bird” ground test facility in Taufkirchen, Germany. In simple terms, the iron bird enables the verification of the electric propulsion system. The test was yet another step in the long pilot process before a prototype can take flight and this scientific dream finally comes to fruition.
This recent test means that the CityAirbus now can operate the propulsion system chain from flight controls to the dynamic loads of the propellers allowing the verification of all the critical components such as thermal dynamics, electric, mechanical systems. After the verification of the iron bird, the propulsion system will be embedded on the demonstrator by this summer. Recently, CityAirbus chief engineer, Marius Bebesel stated, “We now have a better understanding of the performance of CityAirbus’ innovative electric propulsion system, which we will continue to mature through rigorous testing while beginning the assembly of the full-scale CityAirbus flight demonstrator.”
A collaboration between Airbus and Siemens is responsible for the test which reflects the CityAirbus architecture including motors, power electronics and distribution boxes developed and produced by Siemens, with an agreement between Airbus and Siemens on electric propulsion. Currently, the development of the CityAirbus demonstrator itself is on-going, and the first structural parts have already been produced and in the process of being assembled. These critical steps are paving for CityAirbus to take its first flight before the end of 2018.
FLYING WITHOUT A PILOT
Developed by Airbus’ E-Aircraft Systems unit, the CityAirbus is a multi-passenger (currently designed for up to four passengers), self-piloted battery-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicle designed for urban air mobility. The Airbus will cruise over frustrated commuters below at a speed of up to 75 mph using a four-rotor design with eight motors powered by four batteries. Airbus believes that this form of transportation is a much more affordable and environmentally friendly way to commute to and from work or shopping.
Though there is competition from other electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft, (one in Dubai and Passenger Drone), Airbus hopes to begin passenger service in cities by 2023, after government certification and a new system of urban air traffic management is in place to streamline the flights. Clearing all of these barriers is the first step toward faster, cheaper, and cleaner travel. And for those fearing flying in an aircraft with no pilot, CityAirbus won't be autonomous at first. Manually operated by certified pilots, travelers can get more comfortable with flying taxis before sending them in the self-flying buses.