EmbraerX recently made the first flight in a simulator it is using to develop its planned new eVTOL aircraft. The advanced technologies division of the Brazilian business and regional aircraft manufacturer has also flown scale models of the new design and has conducted wind tunnel testing, but has yet to say when it expects the all-electric, four-seater to enter service.
According to Andre Stein, EmbraerX’s head of strategy and urban air mobility, the simulator trials use real flight control parameters and control laws to gather the information that will prepare the way for eventual type certification flight testing. Engineers have been testing the aircraft’s fifth-generation fly-by-wire controls, which will initially support piloted operations while being compatible with later plans to progress to autonomous flight.
Embraer has been quite secretive about its plans for an eVTOL, despite Uber's naming it as one of eight partners supporting the ride-hailing group’s plans to launch air taxi services from 2023. Stein told FutureFlight that it continues to work with Uber, while stressing that Embraer remains focused on supporting the wider “eco-system” for urban air mobility (UAM), including air traffic management and ground infrastructure. He added that the manufacturer’s agreement with Uber is not exclusive and that it remains open to possible partnerships with other operators and infrastructure providers.
The new design shows eight propellers installed on four beams attached to two narrow, parallel wings protruding from the top of the fuselage to provide vertical lift. At the rear of the aircraft, there are a pair of ducted fans for cruise flight.
Embraer believes that its extensive experience in certifying 26 new aircraft over a couple of decades places it to deliver the right performance, safely to the market. Stein pointed to its achievement with the latest E2 airliner, which won certification on time and with better-than-projected performance as evidence of the depth of the aerospace engineering capability it is now tapping to accelerate the flight test campaign.
“One of the things we have talked about is how to leverage our know-how to develop new aircraft, and [we saw this] when we did the first flight in the E2 because we broke records in expanding the flight envelope,” he said. “A lot of [eVTOL] startups rush to fly something just to have something to show investors.”
The EmbraerX team is using the flight simulator at the company’s Sao Jose dos Campos headquarters to evaluate the man-machine interfaces of its new eVTOL design, using both experienced test pilots and relatively inexperienced pilots. Its eVTOL engineering manager Luiz Valentini said that the company works on the assumption that the UAM market will need to rely on pilots who do not come from an air transport background, prompting it to consider the use of very user-friendly control interfaces.
The simulator work also lays the groundwork for capabilities needed for autonomous operations, such as detect and avoid systems. “We are trying to create a vehicle that we can show will have the flexibility to operate in different airspaces around the world and it gives us the confidence to be able to facilitate autonomous flight capabilities before we fly the aircraft,” Valentini explained.
Meanwhile, EmbraerX is accelerating work on urban air traffic management, which started in 2011 when it bought a stake in a specialist company called Atech. Since publishing its FlightPlan2030 white paper to define requirements for UAM in June 2019, the company has worked closely with two undisclosed air navigation service providers and L3 Harris Corporation to develop a concept of operations.
“Our goal is to make it [UAM] more accessible and scalable, taking account of both hybrid-electric and electric aircraft,” said David Rothblatt, leader of EmbraerX’s urban air traffic management project.
By the first quarter of 2021, EmbraerX intends to have incorporated the results of its studies with the ANSPs (located in both Eastern and Western hemispheres) into a consultation document. At the same time, it will seek to build “community support” from prospective early UAM adopter cities and then go to the regulators with what it calls a data-driven case for how operations could start.
With the right infrastructure in place, EmbraerX sees potential for UAM services to grow rapidly as eVTOL aircraft change the scope of air transportation in and around cities. “In London alone, we see the potential for two million users with around 1,500 eVTOL aircraft on the basis that each person would use them about once per month,” Stein told a webinar during the FIA Connect event on July 23.