Aircraft have more than proven their worth as air ambulance assets, helping to save thousands of lives. According to MercyFlight’s timeline of air ambulance history, these flights started in 1870 when balloons were used to rescue French soldiers, then in World War I airplanes flew injured soldiers to hospitals much quicker than road conditions would allow for surface transportation. The first helicopter air ambulance flight took place during World War II.
Now the worlds of advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles and aeromedical transport are merging and the Ambular effort to develop an eVTOL aircraft dedicated to medevac operations is well underway. The latest company to join the all-volunteer Ambular team is China-based eVTOL developer EHang.
Ambular is the result of efforts to imagine futuristic concepts and projects by a group at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), informed by research conducted by futurist Charles Bombardier, who runs think-tank Imaginactive. The Ambular concept gelled in 2018, with the goal of developing an eVTOL vehicle that would be dedicated to flying an injured person to a hospital quickly and safely.
With EHang as the most recent member, Ambular partners include Imaginactive, ICAO, Concordia University, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and CASRI (the Second Research Institute of the Civil Aviation Administration of China).
Aircraft flown for medevac purposes have traditionally been adapted from existing machines, not purpose-built for air-ambulance operations. Almost any aircraft is a suitable candidate for medevac flights, and there are many companies that specialize in upgrading cabin interiors for patient care and transport.
But Ambular looks to extend that concept further, into a dedicated design that will be flown only for medevac flights. As an eVTOL AAM, Ambular would have a maximum weight of 400 kg (882 pounds) and be capable of carrying a 200 kg payload. Four detachable arms would be fitted with two propellers each and eight 150 kW motors. Battery capacity would allow for 35 minutes of flight.
The Ambular team envisions two other vehicles to supplement the larger one. One would carry a medevac pod, which would be helpful for a contagious patient. Pods could be carried by ground vehicles too. A smaller Ambular drone would fly medicines or other medical material to patients.
While an ICAO volunteer group can’t develop a product that can be sold commercially, the Ambular team hopes that its work inspires further work on a dedicated eVTOL air ambulance. Ambular also welcomes participation in its efforts.