Vertical Aerospace has started untethered flight testing with the first full-scale prototype of its VX4 eVTOL aircraft. On July 19, the UK company released images and video showing the aircraft in flight at Cotswold Airport and confirmed that flight testing has been progressing for several weeks.
During what appear to be low-altitude flights, the VX4 has achieved speeds of 40 knots. All the remotely piloted flights have been in hover-mode with some forward, with the company reporting early performance as surpassed expectations and insights that will help it improve performance for the four-passenger vehicle.
The prototype is fitted with generic, off-the-shelf electric motors as Rolls-Royce is still working on a clean-sheet-design electric propulsion system for the production aircraft. All the power came from Vertical’s proprietary battery packs, developed at the new Vertical Energy Centre at the company’s headquarters in Bristol.
Vertical started tethered flight testing, mainly inside a hangar at Cotswold Airport back in September 2022. Later this year, it plans to add a second prototype to the flight test program as it works towards achieving UK and EASA type certification by the end of 2026.
“The aircraft was remarkably easy to fly,” commented chief test pilot Justin Paines. “It was rock-solid in stability and provided precise control even in demanding flight conditions such as hovering close to the ground. The aircraft leaped into a stable hover at a lower RPM [revolutions per minute] than expected, taking advantage of the ground effect cushion. Battery temperatures and state-of-charge remained well within predictions for the duration of flights.”
In May, Vertical Aerospace confirmed it has started a new round of fund-raising to cover its cash needs from late 2024 when it expects to begin series production. As of the end of the first quarter on March 31, the company, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, had £104 million ($131 million) in its coffers.
On July 3 in a Securities and Exchange filing, Vertical confirmed the appointment of Stuart Simpson as its new CFO. He is the third person to have held this position in less than a year, with John Martin having succeeded Vinny Casey as recently as January 2023.
In addition to Rolls-Royce, other program partners include GKN, which is making the VX4’s wing and the electrical wiring interconnection system. Honeywell is providing the aircraft’s fly-by-wire control systems.
In May, South Korean mobility group Kakao became the latest prospective operator for the VX4, sighing provisional orders for 50 aircraft. The company, which has some 30 million users for its ride-hailing app, will form a joint working group with Vertical to prepare for commercial advanced air mobility services in the Asian country. Other sales commitments for the aircraft, which will have an initial range of around 100 miles, have come from prominent operators including American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines, Gol, Bristow, and AirAsia, as well as leasing groups Avolon and Marubeni.