Thanks to technological advances related to electric mobility, helicopters are about to experience a real revolution after several decades of little progress. These electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft are being combined with electric motors and technical solutions that turn them into real airplanes once in the air. And we don’t have to go very far. In Spain, a Chinese company will use the city of Seville as a laboratory for one of these convertible devices next year.
The main reason is that helicopters are designed to cover relatively short distances and lightly loaded, a favorable scenario for electrified vehicles of all kinds. Some companies are working in this field, such as the Australian AMSL Aero, which has a prototype aircraft that promises to cover distances of up to 800 kilometers using a hydrogen fuel cell engine and its first task will be to carry out the work of an air ambulance.
When we saw these types of aerial solutions a few years ago, they seemed typical of any science fiction movie. Futuristic aircraft that we were probably never going to see with our eyes. But all this has changed a lot in recent times and companies like AMSL Aero pretend put the aircraft into operation in 2023.
In Spain we are more than used to seeing helicopters transferring patients in traffic accidents or in some serious situations. This type of aircraft is medicalized as if it were real ambulances and is a great tool for these more delicate cases. Now we have to transfer this concept to Australia, where the AMSL project comes from, one of the largest countries in the world and with the most dispersed population.
The Vertiia, as the helicopter is called, has been specially designed for these situations and has just reached an agreement with CareFlight, a partner of the health branch that will use these particular helicopters in the next years. In addition to the transfer of patients, from CareFlight they point to its use in natural disasters such as forest fires or the routine transfer of patients from rural areas to medical centers.
The base design of the AMSL Aero Vertiia consists of a seat for the only pilot needed and a total of 4 transport seats. The closest thing to a traditional taxi. The adaptation to an ambulance has been carried out due to this agreement with Careflight and it will become part of the fleet that the conventional aircraft company already has.
As reported in the technical sheet, the helicopter is capable of traveling a total of 250 kilometers using the batteries on board and can expand to beyond 800 using hydrogen. All of them traveled at a cruising speed of 300 kilometers per hour, a figure above the average for civil helicopters.
The external design is the most innovative of the aircraft. It has a total of 8 rotating rotors allowing you to land and take off vertically and also fly as if it were an airplane. The cabin is located in the central part and has been designed for air taxi purposes with standard doors and also to be accessible to stretchers through a gate.
Vertiia’s medium-term objective is to become a remote control vehicle. That you don’t need to have a pilot on board but that all controls can be operated from a location on land.
The coming revolution
Aviation, conservative industry where it exists, is starting to experiment with electrical. It has been a year now that the first electric commercial airplane took off with passengers and throughout 2020 we have not stopped seeing projects of all kinds and scope.
Some even come from mobility giants like Uber that is already looking to the future to give the following twist on intercity transport. Whether this type of project finally succeeds depends on the certifying authorities.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) of the United States or the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) of Europe have the last word to give the ‘green light’ to the operation of these aircraft in their respective jurisdictions. Something that is not very simple considering the amount of new elements that are introduced in this airplane and helicopter format.
Other traditional brands are also involved in flying taxi projects that are likely to take over cities in a few years. To give examples, the English Rolls-Royce presented a couple of years ago its particular -as well as luxurious- flying taxi vision and Porsche teamed up with Boeing to also create flying cars.
All of the above if we look at the situation from a civil point of view. If we take the military prism, which usually indicates the nearest future, the United States Army is preparing flying cars for troops and even a type of one-man vehicles for the transport of special forces.