Commercial

Uber Elevate Envisions 150 MPH Air Taxi Cruising Speed

By Frank Wolfe | January 30, 2019
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The Bell Nexus air taxi design

MESA, Arizona — Winged electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) designs that cruise at 150 miles per hour are key to making air taxi service profitable, Mark Moore, the director of engineering for Uber Elevate, told the Vertical Flight Society's 6th Annual eVTOL Symposium.

Uber Elevate is looking for advances in battery power to provide three hours of eVTOL continuous operations with one pilot and four passengers, and vehicle speed will be crucial for moving passengers to and from vertiports quickly and making a business case for urban air mobility (UAM).

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"Productivity is king," Moore said. Initially, big cities with a critical mass of vertiports will be obvious UAM markets, as such cities will have lower start-up costs. Sao Paulo has 270 vertiports — the most of any city in the world, according to the Virginia-based Nexa Advisors.

Moore discounted wingless multicopters, as they will not have the speed, nor the efficiency, of winged vehicles.

Uber Elevate believes that eVTOL vehicles have an advantage over helicopters in urban mobility when it comes to safety, cost, noise and efficiency thanks to distributed propulsion and electricity. The rideshare company wants to push its air taxis past the elites-only price-point that helicopter urban transit has always held.

Moore said that Uber Elevate's objective is to get costs down to less than the 50-cents-per-mile associated with car travel.

Engineers are working on a variety of issues associated with urban mobility, including reducing maintenance costs through the elimination of traditional helicopter controls and gearboxes, reducing rotor tip speeds to cut the noise that impedes community acceptance of rotorcraft, and improving vehicle performance in low-speed, high-wind conditions around buildings and vertiports in cities.

"I'm very worried about winds in this complex urban environment," Moore said in response to a question on building air turbulence after his address.

Helicopters have become safer despite lingering public perception of them as unsafe, and the time will come when the general public views helicopter and eVTOL travel much as people view car travel, as a comparatively insignificant risk, Moore said.

"The critical thing is showing the value function to the general public," he said. Five Uber partner companies — Bell, Boeing's Aurora Flight Sciences, Embraer, Karem Aircraft Co., and Pipistrel — are building fixed-wing, electric or hybrid-electric vehicles with distributed propulsion and control systems.

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