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Farnborough 2018: Aston Martin unveil Volante Vision concept

20th July 2018 - 10:00 GMT | by Tim Martin, Ashley Roque in Farnborough

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Aston Martin is crossing over to the luxury aviation market with the launch of its Volante Vision concept for the next generation of urban flying.

The clean sheet design, by the British automotive giant, is being exhibited at Farnborough as a small scale model - which has evolved from a collaboration between engineers from the company and Cranfield University aviation experts.

The vehicle features an electric Rolls-Royce propulsion system with the engine manufacturers M250 gas turbine also used to provide a hybrid architecture. Fully autonomous take-off and landing capabilities are included in the design as well as heads-up display technology. 

Ian Bacon, senior programme manager at Aston Martin, suggested to Shephard that the powerplant and propulsion structure was a deliberate decision to make best use of 'fuel burn versus battery size' factors. 

'Obviously as batteries improve we can phase out the turbine and the neat thing about running an autonomous, fly-by-wire platform is that we can return control back to the pilot or vary the amount of it to prioritise what they need to do,' he said.

'Vertical take-off is made possible by the tiltrotor design on the front of the aircraft which begins to tilt once in transition, which pulls the vehicle into forward motion with the wing-section providing dynamic lift, meaning we aren't using mechanical power for the lift.'

Development of 'high level mass positioning calculations' are being focused on by Aston Martin as it looks to move the design process forward, with new supply chain partners being sought after as the programme progresses. 

'It would be nice if partners were UK based but the project is internationally mobile', Bacon explained when asked about discussions with prospective industry partners. 'The market could emerge outside the UK but at least the concept now starts a conversation.'

Alongside Aston Martin's Volante Vision, similar concepts have caught the attention of attendees at Farnborough.

During a public presentation on the future of urban air mobility, Embraer CEO and president Antonio Campello talked about societies' desire to get 'our time back' and the potential for air taxis to do just that.

'It's the new frontier in aviation,' Campello told the audience. 'We aren't there yet but we are much closer.'

Embraer and Uber Technologies are working together to develop a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) ride-hailing aircraft. While Campello said it was 'too early' to discuss key development milestones, he noted that the goal is to have an aircraft ready for demonstrators by the end of 2020 with certification following in 2023.

Competitors and teams, Campello added are 'accelerating' the urban air mobility ecosystem — an array of areas including manufacturing, batteries, propulsion infrastructure and much more — and pushing air taxi development forward.

'This is not a dream, this is reality,' he said.

Embraer is not alone in the air taxi race and Rolls-Royce used this year's showto unveil its plans to develop a hybrid electric, flying taxi.

According to the plan, the company will have an eVTOL prototype completed within the next 18 months, with the goal of having it up in the air in the early 2020s. The taxi is expected to seat four or five people and be able to fly 500 miles with up to speeds of 200mph.

Not to be left out of the race, Bell is also moving out with its own air taxi programme and recently announced a new partnership with Safran for a hybrid electric power system to power the aircraft.

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