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Vertical Aerospace Update On VX4 Program After Incident

The Vertical Aerospace VA-X4. (Photo: Vertical Aerospace)

Vertical Aerospace, a British eVTOL aircraft manufacturer, updated on its VX4 program, announcing a significant milestone by successfully concluding its remote thrust-borne flight test campaign. The first full-scale VX4 prototype achieved its target speed of 40 knots (74 km/h), surpassing performance expectations by 10-30% during various flight phases.

According to the statement, the VX4 demonstrated exceptional stability and control, particularly in sustained hover, a challenging feat for VTOL aircraft. However, the journey hasn’t been without its hiccups. On August 9, 2023, the eVTOL experimental prototype, registered as G-EVTL, suffered a crash during an uncrewed test at Cotswold Airport (GBA) in the United Kingdom after reaching an altitude of approximately 20 feet (six meters).

One of the aircraft’s Electrical Propulsion Units (EPU) was intentionally disabled, and this led to the unexpected release of one of the front propellers connected to a separate EPU, resulting in an excessive imbalance that caused a supporting pylon structure to fail. The aircraft entered a stable descent, sustaining damage upon impact with the ground.

High-voltage systems and batteries demonstrated resilience during the incident, with voltage, current, and power levels remaining within acceptable limits and average cell temperatures. The investigation into the incident revealed a bonding issue within the propeller blade, which had already undergone a redesign and a different manufacturing process before the incident occurred. It’s worth noting that the aircraft involved in the incident will not be repaired to an airworthy standard but will be utilized for further ground tests.

As explained and addressed in the announcement, it is worth mentioning that it was a “forward-looking statement neither promises nor guarantees.” The market for eVTOL aircraft is in a relatively early stage, so Vertical Aerospace has a potential inability to produce, certify, or launch aircraft in the volumes or timelines projected.

Despite the setback, Vertical Aerospace maintains its certification timelines, with plans for an advanced full-scale VX4 prototype set to take flight early in 2024, backed by key industry partners like Honeywell, GKN Aerospace, Hanwha, Solvay, Leonardo, and Molicel.

The British company flew its first prototype aircraft weighing 750 kg (1,650 lb), VA-X1, in June 2018 at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire, and initially stated a goal of commercial flight by 2022. Now it targets for 2024. Last March, Vertical Aerospace announced the opening of a new 15000 sq. ft facility in Bristol.

Already 1,400 aircraft pre-ordered

The British company has secured funding through the second half of 2024, ensuring continued progress in its ambitious endeavors. In June 2021, American Airlines announced a pre-order of up to 250 aircraft with an option for an additional 100, while in 2022, it confirmed delivery slots for 50 VX4 eVTOL aircraft to collaborate on a framework for exploration of the future of advanced air mobility and potential markets for eVTOL operations in the United States.

As of 2022, Vertical has a market-leading pre-order book by value for 1,400 aircraft from global customers. Customers include American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Avolon, Bristow, Marubeni, Iberojet and FLYINGGROUP, Japan Airlines (JAL), Gol, Air Greenland, Gozen Holding and AirAsia.

Vincenzo Claudio Piscopo
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  • Vincenzo Claudio Piscopo

    Vincenzo graduated in 2019 in Mechanical Engineering with an aeronautical curriculum, focusing his thesis on Human Factors in aircraft maintenance. In 2022 he pursued his master's degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Palermo, Italy. He combines his journalistic activities with his work as a Reliability Engineer at Zetalab.

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