Vertical Aerospace Close to Flight Testing New eVTOL Prototype

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Vertical Aerospace Close to Flight Testing New eVTOL Prototype

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The UK start-up aims to demonstrate the four-passenger aircraft at the Farnborough Airshow

Vertical Aerospace has almost completed manufacturing of its second VX4 eVTOL prototype and expects to start test flights in the next few weeks. The UK company is still determining whether it will be able to display the four-passenger aircraft at the Farnborough Airshow in late July, but its higher priority remains accelerating progress towards type certification and entry into service targeted for 2026.

While Vertical’s public profile would be greatly boosted by flying the VX4 during the Farnborough event, its new CEO Stuart Simpson has told his team to prioritize development work aimed at achieving a piloted transition flight by the end of this year. On July 31, the company is set to receive the second of two $25 million tranches of funding provided by its founder Stephen Fitzpatrick, which will be sufficient cash to sustain work through the second half of 2025.

The almost complete second prototype features more hardware provided by key partners Honeywell, Leonardo, and GKN Aerospace. It also has new propellers that Vertical has redesigned since the Aug. 9, 2023 crash that destroyed its first prototype. It also uses new batteries produced in the company’s in-house Vertical Energy Centre at its Bristol headquarters.

In April, Vertical held a “Pioneers Event” for launch customers for an interactive discussion of the VX4 and the use cases that operators including American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Air Lines, and Bristow have in mind. Chief technology officer Michael Cervenka said that for part of the session, his team left the room to allow the customers to freely exchange feedback on the product, which he said had yielded some actionable input to “tailor the aircraft to achieve its sweet spot in performance.” The manufacturer has also been working with flight training group CAE to refine the pilot interface.

Acknowledging that two or more rival eVTOL aircraft developers seem likely to launch commercial operations earlier than Vertical, Cervenka maintained that the nascent advanced air mobility sector will not be a case of “winner takes all.” He said the company is taking a deliberately systematic approach to its certification process, which will start with the UK Civil Aviation Authority and lead to an EASA validation. “As our chief engineer David King says, we are going slowly now so that we can go faster later,” Cervenka said.

For instance, before flight testing with the new second prototype gets underway at Kemble Airport in the west of England, the Vertical team will complete what it refers to internally as “a mini certification process” that serves as a dry run to ensure all the technology and processes are ready. The lessons learned from flying the second prototype will be applied in construction of a third prototype, which will be designated as the aircraft to be used for formal certification testing.

In Cervenka’s view, recent moves to fast-track early use cases for eVTOL aircraft in Gulf states are somewhat concerning from a safety perspective. He questioned whether rapid validation of certifications from other jurisdictions that could bypass standard ICAO processes and accelerated operational permits are appropriate for a new segment of air transport.

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