German electric rotorcraft manufacturer Volocopter has unveiled their latest aircraft, VoloConnect. The new electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL) is the company’s attempt to connect cities and suburbs – extending the range offered by their existing models.
Volocopter intends to incorporate the use of VoloConnect alongside its other urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft. The company has previously impressed spectators with test flights of the Volocopter 2X aircraft over Singapore.
Bridging the UAM gap between city and suburb
The VoloConnect is an ambitious attempt to extend the possibility of UAM mobility to non-urban environments. So far, Volocopter’s air taxi aircraft design has only catered to urban areas such as cities and transport hubs.
Volocopter’s pre-existing aircraft VoloCity, showcased last month at Auto Shanghai 2021, features specifications designed for shorter distances. The eVTOL can transport two passengers from distances up to 35 km and maximum airspeed 110 km/h
However, the VoloConnect can transport four passengers to a range of 100 km, at a speed of 180 km/h, and with a top speed of ~250 km/h. Scaled aircraft prototypes have also revealed a lightweight and compact layout – allowing for faster and more efficient flight with a low stall speed.
Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter, who joined the company in 2015, said, “VoloConnect embodies the next dimension of our mission to offer affordable, efficient, and sustainable flight mobility solutions for cities around the globe”, also adding the aircraft’s “capacity to support longer missions and higher payloads serves another strong growing market demand”.
Using a specifically designed hybrid “push and lift” design, the VoloConnect will be able to transport higher payloads whilst maintain the ease of operation of the other members of the Volocopter eVTOL family.
For over two years, Chief Engineer Sebastian Mores has led a team of engineers working on the new aircraft at the Munich headquarters. The team has already conducted successful test flights of VoloConnect prototypes and are anticipating the aircraft’s hybrid lift and push design to receive certification within five years.
Increasing options for electric short distance travel
Many at Volocopter and in the aviation industry believe electric-powered flying to be the future of short-distance travel. So far, the company has released a series of UAM ecosystem solutions, including VoloDrone, VoloPort and a digital platform for connecting to its aircraft, VoloIQ. These options cover VoloCopter for a diverse range of solutions for the future of UAM.
However, they are not the only company working in this area. Boeing, Uber, Hyundai and Toyota have also begun developing UAM solutions. Earlier this year, United Airlines announced a partnership with Archer Aviation to develop flying electric taxis to help passenger transit to hub airports.
A Morgan Stanley Research Institute report estimates the UAM market may be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040. The race to capitalise on this market is still heavily contested.
But Volocopter may have the edge on its competition, being the first and only eVTOL company to have obtained Design Organisation Approval from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). And in 2017, they were also the first company ever to complete an autonomous eVTOL flight, flying over Dubai.
Volocopter sees itself as building the first sustainable and scalable UAM business, with the slogan ‘Bring Urban Air Mobility to Life’. The company goal is to supply UAM technologies to some of the world’s largest megacities affordably. As of September 2020, Volocopter is now taking reservations for future flights on its aircraft.
It’s clear that Reuter views the new VoloConnect as a significant component of VoloCopter’s future, stating, “We are confident that this aircraft family, and the years of experience and leading innovation on which it’s founded, will pioneer the way for electric UAM services to launch commercially and internationally”.
Words by Jonathan Ritchie