There has been a lot of chatter in the news about urban air taxi services, particularly electric vertical take-off & landing (EVTOL) vehicles. A couple of companies, in particular, have been receiving quite a lot of buzz.
This is great. Hopefully, advances will finally make it possible for people to get across a large metro area or to a nearby city quickly. Autonomous personal air mobility may finally become a reality. Hopefully, the companies in the forefront will be able to clear the way to make urban air mobility an opportunity for many.
Personally, I’ve had a recurring dream about rising above the power lines and zooming off into the skies. Perhaps dreams are visions and something that I’m supposed to be. I’d love to arrive at the wherewithal to help make urban air mobility a truth for many people.
There is, however, one small problem with most of the solutions. Most of them will never be able to actually work as a “taxi.” At least not in the traditional sense of the word.
To me, a taxi is a means of transportation that picks you up at your current location and then delivers you directly to your destination. I do not see most of the contenders being able to accomplish this. Instead, the talk is about vertiports. Customers travel to a vertiport, get in an air transport vehicle, which flies to another vertiport; customers then travel from the vertiport to their intended destinations.
This sounds a whole lot like current air travel, but just on a much smaller more local scale.
The reasons you won’t be seeing an air taxi landing in the street in front of your house or apartment just yet include government regulations and the size and form of the vehicle. Of these two, vehicle size is a big limiting factor.
Let’s consider the forms of the different contenders out there. Please note, I’m purposely avoiding the name-dropping of any specific brands or companies.
A few of the proposed solutions essentially resemble oversized drones. They use multiple propellers spread around the vehicle. Only a few of these have a footprint small enough that they may fit on a city street. If regulations allow it, there could come a day when one of these smaller craft could pick you up at or near your location and then drop you off at or near your destination (maybe).
A few of the contenders are reminiscent of helicopters, but with multiple propellers instead of a single rotor. These frankencopters have a footprint similar to that of regular a helicopter. I doubt they could conveniently fit on a common city street. Their long-term prospects as an “air taxi” are doubtful, regardless of changes in government regulations.
Fixed Winged Monstrosities
Several of the inventions are fixed-wing vehicles, but again with multiple propellers. Fixed-winged craft have one important advantage. The energy required to keep them in the air while moving forward is significantly less than that which is required for a vehicle without any wings. However, again, the footprint of these craft make them unlikely to land on any city street. You’d be unlikely to see a Cessna land in front of your house or apartment even if it could do VTOL.
Flying Cars or Drivable Airplanes / Autocopters?
There are a few solutions that have retractable wings or rotors (autogyro). A battery-electric solution for one of these craft may certainly be feasible. The user drives the vehicle to an airstip (or field), takes off like an airplane, flies to another airstrip (or field), lands and then drives to the destination.
Are these really flying cars? Or rather are they drivable airplanes/copters? These craft are being promoted mainly with personal ownership in mind. Strangely enough though, these craft most nearly have the utility of a true taxi, but just not very conveniently. The inconvenience of having to travel to an airstrip makes them not as viable a contender as a vehicle that can lift off from the customer’s location (VTOL) and then land directly at the customer's destination.
Another challenge many of the proposed urban air solutions have is noise. They can be very noisy. If you’ve ever heard a drone flying overhead, you can probably imagine that noise multiplied manyfold. Imagine the loud and annoying sound of just one such craft. Then imagine hundreds of such craft flying overhead shuttling people across town. It’s easy to perceive that the need for a quiet solution is definitely there.
Hope For The Future
Like I said at the outset, I’m a big fan of the air taxi concept. For several years I’ve been following the progress being made hoping that one of the involved companies can make air taxi service a reality. I earnestly hope that in time, progress in design and regulations can be made to make it possible for an air taxi to someday land in front of my house, take me across the city and deliver me to my destination.
Perhaps someone could invent a craft with folding wings like an Imperial Lambda shuttle. Such a craft could employ VTOL capabilities and then, once in the air, deploy its wings for distance flight. Or perhaps a transwing design might work. Regardless, I strongly hope that someone creates a solution that will allow me to summon a VTOL taxi on my phone and then have it take me directly to where I’ve got to go quickly. It would be great fun!
What do you think? Are air taxis in our future?
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