A flying taxi ordered by American Airlines just completed its first piloted flight

The first airborne test was piloted, showcasing compliance with stringent safety standards.
Ameya Paleja
The VX4 eVTOL from Vertical Aerospace
The VX4 eVTOL from Vertical Aerospace

Vertical Aerospace 

VX4, the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) capable aircraft from British aviation startup Vertical Aerospace completed its first take-off from the ground over the weekend, the company said in a press release. Also referred to as "wheels up," the milestone is a major boost for American Airlines, which has plans to incorporate 250 such aircraft into its fleet when they are available.

The eVTOL market is picking up pace as cities and airline companies are looking for electric-powered and greener means of aerial transport. The range limitation of these electric aircraft is still an ongoing concern, but the capability of VTOL has opened up new avenues in urban transport.

Companies like American Airlines and Virgin airlines have spotted new opportunities in this sector and put their faith in Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace to deliver an eVTOL aircraft that will meet their needs.

Vertical Aerospace's VX4

Powered by a greater than one-megawatt powertrain which was developed in association with Rolls-Royce, the VX4 is designed to reach a top speed of 202 miles (325 km) an hour. Its range of 100 miles may seem a bit short, but the eVTOL is expected to carry not more than four passengers, apart from a pilot. So, it is likely to be used for about 30-minute trips between airports or across the city.

During this time, VX4 can cruise at a speed of 150 miles (241 km) an hour while being 100 times quieter than a helicopter, the company claims on its website. Vertical Aerospace has also promised the use of advanced avionics on its eVTOL aircraft that will see it incorporate the same flight control technologies as seen in the F-35. This is aimed a reducing pilot workload during flight and increasing automation.

The first flight and the way forward

Holding so much promise, Vertical Aerospace's first flight was, therefore, quite eagerly waited upon. It has helped that the company has previously demonstrated flight with its prototype aircraft. Over the weekend, it did the same with the VX4.

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Inside an aircraft hanger, the VX4 took off from the ground for the very first time, piloted by Justin Paines, the company's test pilot. The test flight was rather short, lasting only ten minutes and the aircraft only rose to a height of about three feet (under one meter) while being tethered to the ground, Business Insider reported.

Since this was a piloted test, it required the necessary authorizations from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the U.K., and the regulators were present during the test flight. According to the press release, the company insisted on a piloted flight to demonstrate its commitment and compliance with the stringent safety standards.

Next on the test plan is a low-speed flight at an altitude of 50 feet (15 m) following the VX4 will undergo transition and envelope extension tests at altitudes of 5,000-10,000 feet (1,524 - 3,048 m), the press release added.

Vertical Aerospace aims to have its eVTOLs certified for flight by 2025, even as no aircraft of such type has been approved by regulators so far, Insider said in its report.

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