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 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.
At the end of January, 2021, Vertical Aerospace announced its plans to fly its VA-1X eVTOL by the end of the year, according to chief engineer Tim Williams. The all-electric prototype is expected to make a first flight in 2021 and enter service in 2024, with deliveries being fulfilled immediately thereafter. It will carry four passengers and a pilot, and propulsion system will be based on lithium-ion batteries.
In February 2021, Solvay was selected to provide composite aerostructures for the aircraft. This was followed on March 9 by a significant announcement that Rolls-Royce is to develop a new electric propulsion system for the aircraft. At the same time, Vertical Aerospace said that it is renaming the aircraft as the VA-X4 to indicate that it will carry four passengers. The company also announced an increase in its projected range to 120 miles and speed to over 200 mph.
In June 2021, major corporations American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, along with leasing group Avalon, committed to buying as many as 1,000 VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft. The deal is worth as much as $4 billion for the UK-based manufacturer, representing the largest sale agreement in the advanced air mobility sector as of yet. Vertical Aerospace also announced plans for an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange via a SPAC merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp in the second half of 2021. At a $10 base share price, the merger is expected to bring additional proceeds of $394 million to the company.
On December 16, 2021, Vertical Aerospace completed its merger with Broadstone Acquisition and floated shares in the combined company on the New York Stock Exchange. The transaction raised around $300 million, which it says is more than sufficient to support the cost of bring the renamed VX4 aircraft into series production from 2024.
In Febraury 2022, Italian helicopter manufacturer Leonardo agreed to help develop the fuselage for the Vertical VX4. The agreement states they will initially help to build six VX4s to be used for type certification test flights, but the agreement could be extended to cover mass production of up to 2,000 a year.
In March 2022, Air Greenland committed to buying or leasing a fleet of Vertical VX4 aircraft from leasing company Avolon.
In April 2022, EASA agreed to concurrently validate the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s anticipated type certification of the Vertical VX4. The decision will make it possible for the eVTOL to operate in Europe in 2025.
In July 2022, Vertical Aerospace selected E-One Moli Energy to provide the cells to power the VX4. Later in July, Vertical established a joint working group with Babcock to expand the possible applications of its VX4 to emergency medical services and cargo transportation.
In late July 2022, Vertical Aerospace confirmed its progression towards the VX4 prototype's first flight with the installation of wiring systems from Vertical's partner, GKN Aerospace. The first hover flight subsequently was achieved on September 24.
In a letter to shareholders on November 9, the company reported plans to gradually step flight testing of the prototype as it seeks to progress from tethered takeoffs to low-speed flight before making a full transition from hover to wing-borne operations. The UK company has not disclosed a detailed timeline for these steps toward type certification and service entry in 2025.
Having conducted the first tethered takeoffs inside a hangar, the Vertical team has since moved the aircraft outside at Kemble Airport in southwest England. The letter summarizing third-quarter financial results stated that 14 piloted test flights had been made since the company received its permit to fly from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.