It’s easy to dismiss the idea of flying cars as part of an imaginary future that never arrives—but Airbus is no dream-driven startup, it’s a huge global aviation company, and it has a team of engineers working on an autonomous air-taxi design the company says will be ready for its first flight by the end of next year.
The CityAirbus project, now underway at the Airbus Helicopters division in London, aims to produce a four-passenger, electric-powered, vertical take-off and landing aircraft with eight propellers. Preliminary tests of the propulsion system have already been successfully completed. Further tests of the fully integrated drivetrain, with eight specially designed Siemens SP200D all-electric motors, are expected soon.
The CityAirbus won’t be too fast, with a top speed of about 75 mph, but that’s a lot faster than ground vehicles stuck in urban traffic. The aircraft is designed to operate on short hops from the crowded inner city to nearby airports and train stations. At first there will be a pilot on board, but Airbus says that’s not necessary. As soon as the public and regulators are ready to accept a fully autonomous air taxi, the CityAirbus will be ready to go on its own.
Airbus also is working on another flying-car project, the Vahana, through its Silicon Valley division, A3 (“A-cubed”). Local news reports have said A3 is working on the prototype at a hangar in Oregon and it’s expected to fly before year’s end.
The company also has been exploring a concept called Pop.Up, which can quickly switch from wheels to helicopter mode, and experimenting with a helicopter-sharing service called Voom, that serves in the same city-center-to-airport niche that the flying taxis are meant to fill.