The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

UK-based Vertical Aerospace began developing its Vertical eVTOL aircraft in 2016. In 2017 a team of six engineers completed construction of the first full-scale proof of concept example and performed indoor tethered flight tests. In 2018, the UK Civil Aviation Authority gave permission to start outdoor test flights and the first was made in September of that year.

On August 22, 2019, the company achieved a first flight with a second prototype aircraft that it is using as a test bed for flight control systems that Honeywell Aerospace is providing.  On October 16, 2019, it issued a statement naming this prototype as the Seraph and confirming that it will be the precursor to a third, passenger-carrying, prototype that is due to join the flight test program in 2020. The Seraph is making test flights from Llanbedr airfield in north Wales. From 2020, flight testing is expected to be relocated from near the company's Bristol headquarters to Lampeter in rural Wales.

Vertical is working in partnership with civil engineering group Atkins to develop what it calls "a blueprint" for urban air mobility, including ground infrastructure and "the passenger experience."

In January 2020, Vertical said that its redesigned full-scale prototype will feature a wing and open rotors, which is being introduced to increase range ( to almost 100 miles) and speed (to around 150 mph). The company completed its preliminary design review in the first week of January and is aiming to achieve a first flight in 2021. Certification for the eVTOL aircraft under the Special Condition VTOL rules developed by the European Aviation Safety Agency is now projected for 2024. The new prototype will feature an improved version of the Honeywell flight control system and TE Connectivity has been selected to provide cabling. Work is also focusing on reducing weight through the powertrain. 

Also in January, Vertical launched a new round of fund-raising. Chief operating officer Michael Cervenka told FutureFlight that it will likely need a bit more than $100 million to complete type certification and more to begin series production. The fundraising campaign was subsequently suspended in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In August, the company said it had restarted the campaign and is looking to raise around $40 million.

On August 26, 2020, Vertical Aerospace disclosed details of its new VA-1X prototype, which will offer significantly more range than the earlier Seraph technology demonstrator. The new design features a fixed-wing and tiltrotors and is expected to fly up to 100 miles at speeds of 150 mph. 

The all-electric prototype is expected to make a first flight in 2021 and enter service in 2024. It will carry four passengers and a pilot. The propulsion system will be based on lithium-ion batteries.

The company confirmed that Honeywell will provide fly-by-wire flight controls and control laws. TE Connectivity is providing electrical cabling and connectors for Vertical Aerospace. Other systems suppliers have been selected but had yet to be disclosed, as of August 2020.

Timeline

Projected

type certification granted

Projected type certification of Vertical Aerospace VA-1X eVTOL aircraft
Projected

test flight

In August 2020, Vertical Aerospace said that it is now expected to achieve a first flight with its new VA-1X design in 2021. It had previously targeted this for the second half of 2020 before it opted to significantly revise the design for the aircraft. 

On August 26, 2020, Vertical Aerospace revealed the new fixed-wing, tiltorotor design for its VA-1X all-electric eVTOL aircraft.

test flight

Vertical Aerospace's second eVTOL prototype, called Seraph, made a first flight on August 22, 2019. As of October 16, when the company reported this flight, it had made more than a dozen flights.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

Vertical Aerospace appears to be well funded by founder Stephen Fitzpatrick, a former investment banker who evidently has made a fortune in the energy supply business. His company Ovo Energy now lays claim to being the UK's second largest domestic energy supplier. However, on January 30 UK-based Vertical confirmed that it is seeking fresh investors from both strategic partners and financial backers. It is not clear how much it intends to raise but the company has indicated at least $100 million will be needed to complete type certification. On January 29, UK energy industry regulator announced that Ovo has been fined £8.9 million ($11.6 million) for over-charging domestic customers.

A funding rounding announced in January 2020 was subsequently suspended due to disruption resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. In August, the company said it had resumed the search for new investors and was looking to raise around $40 million. 

By the end of 2019, the company had 80 employees and this number was expected to increase to 100 during 2020. It is hiring highly experienced aerospace and technology executives from companies such as BAE Systems, Airbus and Rolls-Royce. In May 2020, it announced the appointment of Tim Williams to the position of chief engineer, joining the startup from aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce, where he had a 33-year career. It subsequently announced a string of other senior engineering and project management appointments, recruiting experienced leaders from several major aerospace groups. The company has also recruited expertise from the Formula 1 car racing industry.

In August 2020, Vertical Aerospace unveiled the design for its new VA-1X prototype. This marks a significant departure from its earlier Seraph technology demonstrator, featuring a fixed wing and tiltrotors to increase range. The change of plan, perhaps combined with Covid delays, means that the planned first flight will now happen in 2021, probably at least six months later than had been anticipated. However, the target for type certification is still in 2024. 

Vertical VA-1X Models

VA-1X Specifications

local vtol Tiltrotor

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    4
  • Range
    100 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    150 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    992 lb

Dimensions

  • Length
    43 ft
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    49 ft

On August 26, 2020, Vertical Aerospace disclosed details of its new VA-1X prototype, which will offer significantly more range than the earlier Seraph technology demonstrator. The new design features a fixed-wing and tiltrotors and is expected to fly up to 100 miles at speeds of 150 mph. 

The all-electric prototype is expected to make a first flight in 2021 and enter service in 2024. It will carry four passengers and a pilot. The propulsion system will be based on lithium-ion batteries.

Key Personnel

Michael Cervenka
Michael Cervenka

Chief operating officer