The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Vertical Silent On Possible Impact of eVTOL Aircraft Prototype Flight Test Crash On Service Entry Timeline

Vertical Aerospace has yet to comment on how damage to its eVTOL prototype aircraft during an August 9 flight test might impact its timeline for achieving type certification for the four-passenger vehicle by the end of 2026. The company has acknowledged that the first VX4 prototype was involved in “an incident” during untethered, remotely-piloted flight testing at Cotswold Airport in the UK and reported that no one was injured.

Several photos of the VX4 circulating online show what appears to be significant damage to the starboard wing, as well as to one or more of the tilting propellers and electric motors, and part of the landing gear. According to a report in the UK publication Pilot, a source at Cotswold Airport said that the aircraft had crashed to the ground from a height of around 20 feet.

Vertical Aerospace has said it will be making no further comment on the incident for now, beyond the following written statement the public company made in a required 6-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: "Our flight test program is designed to establish the limits of the aircraft's performance, and the incident occurred during an uncrewed test of the aircraft's maneuverability during a motor failure test scenario, which is a key requirement to progress to crewed operations. We are working closely with the relevant authorities."

With the UK-registered tail number G-EVTL, the damaged aircraft is Vertical’s first full-scale prototype. It started tethered flight testing in a hangar at Cotswold Airport in September 2022 using ground power. On July 19, the company reported that the vehicle had started untethered flight testing several weeks earlier, saying that it had achieved speeds of 40 knots with some forward movement in hover mode.

According to Vertical, only around 15 percent of the parts and equipment for the first prototype were provided by came its strategic partners, with the company using interim off-the-shelf hardware from UK suppliers. The vehicle does feature Honeywell’s wiring system, which controls the electric motors. Vertical is developing its own batteries.

Second VX4 Prototype Is Now Being Built

Leonardo is currently assembling a second prototype in Italy that include around 60 percent of its content from strategic suppliers, including the Molicel batteries. This vehicle has been expected to join the flight test program later this year. The proportion of certifiable hardware is expected to rise to 80 to 90 percent on the third prototype aircraft and the final production-conforming iteration coming together in the fourth aircraft to be built.

One key element will be the electric propulsion system that Rolls-Royce is developing for the VX4. It is unclear whether this will be available for installation on either the third or fourth prototypes. In May, Vertical’s chief technology officer Michael Cervenka told AIN that prospective customers for the VX4 are comfortable with the decision taken that month to delay the aircraft’s entry into service. Asked about whether cash reserves would be sufficient to complete type certification with the UK Civil Aviation Authority and EASA, he said that a new round of fundraising to be completed this year could include some more “meaningful” pre-delivery payments from these operators.

In a letter to shareholders on August 3, Vertical reported cash reserves amounting to £89.7 million ($114.8 million) and said it is set to spend £80 million over the next 12 months as it works to bring the VX4 into commercial service with prospective customers including Bristow, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Japan Airlines. The company's founder and CEO, Stephen Fitzpatrick said that the available cash reserves will support the start of crewed flight testing and the construction of an upgraded second prototype.

Joby Aviation's efforts to certify its SA-1 eVTOL aircraft have stayed on track since a February 2022 crash that destroyed its second prototype aircraft during remotely piloted flight tests in California. In March 2023, Bell suffered the loss of its Autonomous Pod Transport drone prototype in a "loss of control" accident during flight testing in Texas.