Most of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) development action is in the Americas, China, and Europe. However, there is a notable exception in Australia, where AMSL Aero is quietly getting on with it down under. Just the past month, the company’s Vertiia vehicle completed its first test flight.
The uniquely box-winged five-seat vehicle performed a hover test in the first week of February, and AMSL then brought its long-range ‘air taxi’ to the Avalon Air Show in the past week.
The test itself was conducted by remote control in the Central West of New South Wales. In order to comply with regulations from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the test flight was performed with the Vertiia tethered to the ground.
Photo: AMSL Aero
One of the company’s co-founders, Andrew Moore, commented on the first test flight, as quoted by The Financial Review,
“It is just a huge milestone, it’s a little bit like getting a rocket off the launchpad – it’s a really big deal. There is always a degree of uncertainty, because you can do all sorts of modelling, lots of analysis and lots of ground testing, but the way the aircraft behaves when it first breaks free from the earth always has a certain level of unpredictability.”
He further added to Future Flight that the vehicle flew “better than expected” and that it was remarkably smooth and a “delight to fly.”
Long range, high speed
Another eVTOL developer to keep track of, you may be thinking. Yes, the sense is growing that surely, with 500 different projects worldwide, the market must reach saturation at some point. And indeed, far from all urban air mobility (UAM) hopefuls are expected to make it into service. Some are most likely set, such as Joby Aviation and Vertical Aerospace, with major orders from airlines and other operators.
However, AMSL’s Vertiia has a few characteristics that sets it apart. This includes a unique box-wing configuration, making the vehicle the most compact one to be developed to date, as well as a planned range that leaves competitors in the outback dust. The company is promising a range of 1,000 km (620 miles), with speeds up to 300 km/h (180 mph) and a refueling time of just ten minutes.
This can be compared to, for example, Archer Aviation’s Midnight (backed by, among others, United Airlines) or Vertical’s VX4, which both have initial planned range of 161 km (100 miles). Of course, the Australian rural market is quite different from the densely populated urban sprawl of much of North America, and so the long range may be a necessity for the vehicle to make sense across the vast landscape.
Its mission profile is also quite different from ferrying commuters downtown or hopping on a rideshare from downtown Manhattan to Newark Airport. The Vertiia will initially be targeted toward medical services, removing the often necessary step for injured or sick persons to have to be transferred first to an airstrip before being transported to a medical facility. Indeed, just earlier this month, ASML partnered with NSW-headquartered CareFlight for aeromedical fit-outs of the Vertiia.
CareFlight’s CEO Mick Frewen commented, as quoted by Vertical,
“Our mission is to save lives, speed recovery and serve the community. We transport patients on jets, turboprops, helicopters and road vehicles, so when AMSL approached us about the Vertiia eVTOL, we leapt at the opportunity. The Vertiia can supplement our road, helicopter and turboprop fleet. We love the huge doors on the Vertiia. The doorway is two metres wide, which is wider than on any aircraft we operate.”
Hydrogen-electric propulsion with storage outside the cabin
The reason for the Vertiia’s extended range is not that ASML has found some new secret to battery capacity. Rather, it has been designed from the start to be able to run on hydrogen fuel-cells. And this might come to serve the company well in other markets beyond its home turf and the enormous distances. As the company’s co-founder Mr Moore stated to New Atlas,
“If you can solve the long range problem, short range is easy. If you only build a short range aircraft, then long range is impossible.”
The hydrogen will be stored outside the cabin, in tanks connecting the ends of the box-shaped wing structure. Mr. Moore continued,
“One of the great advantages of the box wing is that if you do it right, what you put in the wingtips actually helps you aerodynamically. So if you’re putting underslung tanks under your wings, that’ll give you a significant drag penalty – whereas for us, it can actually help us reduce drag.”
Ok, so this last tweet is not directly related to the Vertiia or eVTOLs, for that matter, but did you know that the Avalon Air Show has a “puppy pavilion”?
Another thing that sets AMSL Aero apart – it’s a family business. The company was founded in 2017 and is run by husband and wife team Andrew Moore and Siobhan Lyndon. Moore previously worked as an aeronautical engineer at Yamaha, and Lyndon is a former director of people operations at Google.
AMSL is aiming for the Vertiia to enter service in 2026, which is a relatively ambitious timeline. Not so much compared to other eVTOL developers, but specifically because of the hydrogen-propulsion system and additional regulatory hurdles that battery-driven ‘air taxi’ makers may not face. However, it is by no means impossible, given the large strides taken in hydrogen-powered commercial aviation over the past couple of months.
Developed for harsh conditions
The Vertiia is one of the more exciting propositions on the vast eVTOL market, and, as Future Flight quotes co-founder Siobhan Lyndon,
“Vertiia is not only safe and quiet but it was also developed for the harsh long-distance conditions in Australia. If it can work in Australia, it can work anywhere.”
Source: New Atlas, The Financial Review, Vertical, Future Flight