An aviation visionary from the Seattle area with a famous last name has joined the crowded field of personal air taxi startups. His new company unveiled a design that competes with a similar Airbus prototype expected to begin flight testing in Oregon soon.
Erik Lindbergh of Bainbridge Island, Washington, is the grandson of a pioneer aviator. He's now also the president of startup company VerdeGo Aero.
"When my grandfather, Charles Lindbergh, flew across the Atlantic in 1927, he really shifted the world's perspective about what aviation could be used for,” Lindbergh said.
Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh ushered in the age of long-distance passenger flight. Now the younger Lindbergh is hoping to usher in a new transformation.
“We're creating a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft—or you could say a helicopter replacement vehicle—that is clean and quiet,” Lindbergh said. “That's going to change the way we move around short distances—around our cities and mobility challenged areas."
There are about 20 companies worldwide working on mostly electric, robo air taxis.
Lindbergh foresees few of the aircraft being sold to private buyers, essentially as flying cars. His startup's business plan, as in the case of competitors such as Airbus, is mostly to target a new market of self-flying shuttle fleets.
"These are relatively expensive vehicles," Lindbergh said in an interview Friday. "Sharing the ownership and utilizing that every once in a while, like you do an Uber or Lyft, is a model that really allows for scale."
"You'll use your smartphone to pull up your app and plan your trip," Lindbergh elaborated. "Then you'll either drive or take a Lyft to your local 'vertiport,'” he continued, using the name for helipads the emerging industry would need to establish around cities.
Then you'll get in the passenger seat of the personal air taxi and be flown across town, land and walk or find a ride to your final destination.
VerdeGo Aero's initial aircraft has a hybrid-electric power plant that feeds electricity to eight propellers mounted on tilting wings. The small aircraft could be piloted or self-flying as a passenger drone. The prototypes are set to be built at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
Lindbergh said the maiden flight could happen sometime later in 2018, but he acknowledged there are challenges ahead that could delay the first flight. Among other things, the startup company needs to raise another round of venture capital funding.
A spec sheet distributed by VerdeGo Aero described its aircraft as having the capacity to carry two passengers or about 500 pounds on short flights between 20 to 40 miles. Using jet fuel, the aircraft design would be capable of "multiple revenue flights" between refueling stops.
The rendering of the VerdeGo prototype resembles the initial aircraft to emerge from a Silicon Valley-based division of global aerospace giant Airbus. The first Airbus A^3 "Vahana" model was shipped to a hangar at Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton a month ago. It could make its first flight any week now.
The all-electric Vahana prototype is a one-passenger autonomous air taxi with eight motors in a dual tilt-wing configuration. The project manager said in an interview with public radio that a two-passenger variant may eventually become the main production model.