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The Uber and Aurora Flight Sciences eVTOL subscale demonstrator in flight. Aurora has adapted and combined technologies of its previous projects to develop the eVTOL concept.

Aurora Flight Sciences partners with Uber in contested airspace

Uber announced in late April a partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences to develop electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for its Uber Elevate Network. Aurora’s eVTOL concept is derived from its existing XV-24A LightningStrike VTOL X-Plane subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) aircraft for the U.S. Department of Defense and from other autonomous aircraft the company has developed over the years.

Aurora has adapted and combined the autonomous flight guidance system from its Centaur optionally piloted aircraft, the lidar-based perception and collision avoidance system from the AACUS program, and the battery electric propulsion system from the XV-24A SVD to create the innovative eVTOL design.

“Uber is taking a big step forward toward making the world’s first VTOL network a reality and our partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences will help get us off the ground,” said Mark Moore, Director of Engineering for Uber. “The Elevate VTOL network will help improve urban mobility around the world and transform the way we travel.”

The partnership agreement provides the basis for a system of urban transportation solutions that will enable users of the Uber Elevate Network to request an Aurora eVTOL aircraft via Uber’s computer or mobile software applications. The first successful test flight of a subscale demonstrator eVTOL vehicle occurred on April 20, 2017. Aurora’s current goal will be delivering 50 full-scale aircraft for testing by 2020.

This announcement came shortly after the April 4, 2017 announcement that the XV-24A SVD successfully completed its test flight program. The 325-lb XV-24A SVD, funded by DARPA, demonstrated key technical features of the full-scale 12,000-lb LightningStrike XV-24A, including outbound and inbound transition flight. The XV-24A flight test program is currently scheduled to begin in late 2018.

The XV-24A, which is expected to perform manned or unmanned operations, utilizes a tilt-wing system powered by an electric distributed propulsion (EDP) system. Twenty four variable-pitch ducted fans driven by electric motors provide thrust for both hover and cruise and are designed to achieve a top sustained flight speed between 300 and 400 knots. A single Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine—used on the V-22 Osprey—drives three Honeywell generators that provide power to the wing and canard electric motors. Aurora aims for the XV-24A to have a 15% increase in hover efficiency and a two-fold increase in speed over modern helicopters.

“The Uber Elevate mission is all about low noise, high reliability, and low cost,” said Aurora CEO John Langford.

The XV-24A’s EDP system is similar to another eVTOL craft in development—Lilium’s two-seater Lilium Jet prototype, which also announced successful flight tests on April 20, 2017. Similarly, Lilium is aiming to capture the market on small VTOL craft on-demand ridesharing.

The Lilium Jet zero-emissions EDP system is mounted to 12 vectoring flaps on stationary wings. It operates much in the same way as Aurora’s XV-24A and XV-24A SVD where downward pointing engines lift the aircraft and then transition to a horizontal position for conventional flight. The Lilium Jet design is based on redundancy and maintainability, with 36 individually shielded engines sharing identical components. Lilium claims the aircraft is capable of approximately 160 knots with a range of 300 km.

Lilium currently developing the Lilium Eagle, a larger, five-seat eVTOL craft designed specifically for on-demand air taxi and ride-sharing services.

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