A Virgin Atlantic fleet of flying cars that could reduce the travel time of short-haul journeys by more than two thirds is set to roll out in the UK by 2024, it has been revealed.
Vertical Aerospace, a Bristol-based firm, is working towards building the fleet of electrically powered vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, as part of a £2.8 billion ($4 billion) project.
Virgin Atlantic will purchase up to 150 of the aircraft, called VA-X4, to deliver a Virgin Atlantic branded short haul network around some of the UK’s busiest cities.
The ‘near-silent’ aircraft – 100 times quieter than a helicopter – will have zero carbon emissions and a range of more than 100 miles.
Each craft will carry one pilot and four passengers, who will be seated in a luxury interior, complete with padded seats, headrests, seatbelts and ample legroom.
According to Vertical Aerospace, trips in the craft will likely end up costing travellers around £5 to £10 per mile travelled – between that of a helicopter and a private car – which they could book using an app.
Commercial operations are planned for 2024 once certified under European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Vertical Aerospace, which is led by a Northern Irish multi-millionaire and Formula 1 enthusiast, is also expected to work with American Airlines on flying passengers in the US.
Trips in the craft will likely end up costing travellers around £5 to £10 per mile travelled – between that of a helicopter and a private car. Concept image shows a Virgin-branded aircraft, built by Vertical Aerospace, flying over London
Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon have invested a total of £2.8 billion as part of the project.
Microsoft’s M12, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, as well as American Airlines and Avolon, are all investing in the PIPE (private investment in public equity). Rolls-Royce is also providing Vertical Aerospace electric motors.
The project should result in a total fleet of 1,000 aircraft built by Vertical Aerospace.
‘With innovation and sustainability leadership firmly in our DNA, we are excited to be partnering with Vertical Aerospace to pioneer sustainable and zero emissions air travel in the UK,’ said Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic.
The aircraft would potentially take off and land at airfields in the outskirts of a city, or even on landing pads at the top of tall buildings
THE VA-1X: THE STATS
Wingspan: 49 feet (15 metres)
Length: 43 feet (13 metres)
Maximum payload: 992 lbs (450 kg)
Capacity: 1 pilot and 4 passengers
Power source: Lithium-ion batteries
Noise: 100x less than a helicopter
Commercial flights begin: 2024
‘We pride ourselves on building enduring strategic partnerships and are thrilled to be working alongside Vertical in its mission to bring eVTOL travel to the UK.’
Vertical Aerospace, established in 2016, has been working on prototypes for years, but a new image from the firm shows what the Virgin-branded vehicles will look like.
The VA-X4 has four tilting advanced rotors at the front and stowable rotors at the rear, capable of speeds over 200 miles per hour.
VA-X4, which will have certification to the same safety standards as commercial airliners, is set to ‘revolutionise urban mobility and electrify air travel’, Virgin said.
Virgin Atlantic and Vertical Aerospace will be working together to explore a joint venture to enable passenger operations in the UK.
Vertical Aerospace and Virgin Atlantic will seek to establish short haul, electric aircraft connectivity between UK cities and airport hubs starting with London Heathrow, Manchester and London Gatwick.
For example, reducing the 56-mile journey from Cambridge to London Heathrow to just 22 minutes, in comparison to a one hour 30 minute drive by road.
The craft would take off and land at airfields in the outskirts of a city, or even on landing pads at the top of tall buildings.
With 37 towns and cities with populations over 100,000 within 100 miles of London Heathrow Airport, the VA-X4 could enable short haul transfers for 7.7 million customers outside of London, for flights to and from the UK’s main hub airport.
A full-scale prototype of the VA-X4 is currently in production courtesy of Vertical Aerospace and the first test flight is planned for later this year.
The VA-X4 has four tilting advanced rotors at the front and stowable rotors at the rear, capable of speeds over 200 miles per hour. Once rolled out, the craft will have Virgin Atlantic branding in the UK and American Airlines branding in the US
A full-scale prototype of the VA-X4 is currently in production and the first test flight is planned for later this year.
Vertical Aerospace, founded by energy tech entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick, has entered into an agreement for a business combination with Broadstone Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company.
The transaction will result in Vertical becoming a publicly-traded company, meaning it will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The combination is expected to close in the second half of 2021.
Concept photos from Vertical Aerospace show the craft’s elegant interior, complete with padded sears and seatbelts. Each craft will carry four passengers plus a pilot
‘This is the most exciting time in aviation for almost a century – electrification will transform flying in the 21st century in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago,’ said Fitzpatrick.
‘Today’s announcement brings together some of the largest and most respected technology and aeronautical businesses in the world and together we can achieve our aim of making the VA-X4 the first zero carbon aircraft that most people will fly on.
‘The UK is already a global leader in aerospace innovation and we believe Vertical Aerospace will be the British engineering champion to drive the aviation industry forward.’
Vertical Aerospace expects that the VA-1X will begin commercial flights in 2024 – whizzing right over ground-based traffic at faster speeds than cars
WHAT IS VERTICAL AEROSPACE’S ELECTRIC-POWERED TAXI?
The inter-city ‘flying taxi’ service could offer short-haul, inter-city flights carrying multiple passengers using piloted aircraft within four years, according to Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder of Bristol-based flying company Vertical Aerospace.
Since its inception in 2016, the firm has hired 28 veteran aerospace and technical experts from Airbus, Boeing , Rolls-Royce, Martin Jetpack and General Electric.
The firm has conducted a test flight of an unmanned, single-passenger vertical take-off prototype at an airport in Gloucestershire in June.
It did this after being granted flight permission by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The company is the first in the UK to test electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles which could potentially revolutionise short-haul flying.
The electric-powered aircraft could be used in some of the most congested air corridors in the world as it doesn’t require a runway.
The black passenger pod is now gearing up to produce a fixed-wing, piloted version of its vertical take-off aircraft capable of carrying multiple passengers.
It has a range of 100 miles with a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour. It will work with regulators to win certification in the first stage of the air taxi project through 2022, representatives from the firm said.