Vahana Project Update

If you’ve been following along here, you surely share our sentiment that now is a very exciting time for Airbus and the entire aerospace industry. Vahana will help usher in a future in which urban air mobility (UAM) transforms daily life for billions of people.

So where are we on that path? The last few months have been inspiring — we’ve taken final delivery of major full-scale components (including the wings, fuselage, avionics components, and actuators) and have begun full-scale vehicle integration. Simultaneously, we’ve been exploring the practical uses of the aircraft and releasing videos (check out 1 and 2) to help share our vision with a wider audience.

In April, we co-hosted an event with AUVSI in Washington, D.C. calling on aerospace leaders and regulators to work side by side in developing standards for self-piloted passenger aircraft. Our end goal is to map out the regulatory pathways required to make large-scale, self-piloted passenger flight possible in urban areas.

With those pathways, we hope to alleviate stressful and time-consuming commutes. And we were encouraged by the response at the event to our vision of UAM as a necessity, and a near-term reality. We aren’t alone in our belief that current solutions for commuting, both on roads and underground, are saturated and broken.

Now we are testing our aerodynamically accurate subscale models (one of which we brought along with us to D.C.), which performs self-piloted flight testing, demonstrating the full-scale flight software and controls architecture. We’ve recently conducted several trials of autonomous takeoffs and landings and have begun testing the full-scale systems as well.

Scale model of Vahana

In April, FlightHouse Engineering announced their work with us alongside composite manufacturing team members, Composites Universal Group and Decavo. FlightHouse provides structural design and major airframe components to the project that enable us to meet our demanding timelines. Their flexibility and understanding of our needs is immensely valuable.

Vahana’s carbon fiber exterior.

In May, we visited the Dallas-Ft.Worth area, attending two separate events hosted by AHS International. The panels we participated on at AUVSI Xponential and the AHS Forum discussed current VTOL projects and regulatory pathways towards Urban Air Mobility and self-piloted flight. Panelists included innovation leaders from NASA, Boeing, Uber, Sikorsky Innovations, Bell Innovations, the FAA, among others. If the uptick in the volume of conferences and panels focusing on UAM is any indicator, things are tracking in a great direction. We’re extremely happy that the conversation has moved from a “far-fetched” concept to an idea rooted in reality — one that will soon take off on its own.

We also presented on the deep learning and AI track at the NVIDIA GTC conference, sharing first results of our work on Autonomous Systems / Sense and Avoid. Of the many responses to the presentation garnered, by far the most rewarding feedback was, “I didn’t know what you showed was even possible!”.

We were also invited to discuss our plans to bring self-flying air taxies to urban skies in greater detail on their AI Podcast with host Michael Copeland. You can take a listen if you’re interested here and here.

Sensor testing at Velodyne LiDAR

Also last quarter, we went over to our technology partner, Velodyne LiDAR’s new megafactory location in San Jose, CA and were able to test our sensors.

In June, our team was representing Vahana in a few important places. Several team members went to Oregon to attend the unveiling ceremony for the Pendleton Hangar, a new 9,600 square foot hangar at the Eastern Oregon Regional airport, which will serve as Vahana’s flight test center. It has been specifically configured to support Vahana, and we’ll be the hangar’s first occupant. This site was chosen from numerous proposed locations and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the full scale flight tests later this year.

Earl Bowerman, Executive Director, SOAR Oregon, Jeff Mabry, Flight Test Lead from MTSI, Hervé Hilaire, Project Manager for Vahana, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Jason Lewis-Barry, Jobs and Economy Policy Advisor / Director of Regional Solutions for Governor Kate Brown, John Stevens, COO of SOAR Oregon, Honorable John Turner, Mayor, Pendleton, Oregon

According to current statistics, humans must endure about 15 billion painful commutes every year. A fleet of millions of Vahanas could alleviate or possibly eliminate these. Today we feel there’s tremendous opportunity for us to help carve the path toward the future. Even addressing a fraction of a percent of this market would result in the highest aircraft production rates in history — not to mention the time and energy it will save commuters. Please continue to follow along here and over on our Twitter feed.

- Zach Lovering