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Rolls-Royce air taxi idea has propulsion but needs airframe

The aerospace giant has put forward the idea of using the venerable half-century-old M250 engine series for future personal air transport.

Rolls-Royce has unveiled the propulsion side of an electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) concept, which the company said could be used from personal transport through to military applications.

The vehicle would be able to seat four or five people and would use a M250 gas turbine engine to power six low-noise electric propellers, as well as charge a battery. The M250 would be housed in the rear of the aircraft, with the company stating it delivered the first version of the series over 50 years ago and currently more than 16,000 remain in service from a delivery total of over 31,000.

"In this hybrid-EVTOL configuration, it could carry four or five passengers at speeds up to 250mph for approximately 500 miles, would not require recharging -- as the battery is charged by the gas turbine -- and would be able to utilise existing infrastructure such as heliports and airports," Rolls-Royce said.

The concept could be reality by "early to mid 2020s", the company claimed; however, it would need an airframe and partners to work on parts of the electrical system.

One option thrown out by the company was that the wing propellers could fold away, allowing thrust to be provided by a pair of rear props.

Also see: Successful IoT deployment: The Rolls-Royce approach

"Rolls-Royce has a strong track record as pioneers in aviation. From developing the first turbo-prop and jet engines to creating the world's most efficient large civil aero-engine and vertical take-off and landing solutions, we have a very strong pedigree," Rolls-Royce Electrical director Rob Watson said.

"Electrification is an exciting and inescapable trend across industrial technology markets, and while the move to more electric propulsion will be gradual for us, it will ultimately be a revolution."

Earlier this year, Airbus completed the first full-scale flight test of its Vahana self-piloted craft, reaching a height of 5 metres.

Airbus said last year that it is targeting 2020 as the year Vahana will be a viable product, but that it needed a boost in computing power.

According to Arne Stoschek, head of autonomous systems at Airbus A3, the computing challenge is a result of the operating environment the vehicle will face. Compared to the autonomous cars, Vahana will face many of the same issues at or near the ground, but it is when cruising altitude is reached that unique problems appear.

"If we have an obstacle 500 metres away ... that's 10 seconds to impact. If we have something that is [approaching] with our own speed, closing speed of 100 metres per second, then we have five seconds to impact, which is not a lot of time," he said.

"So we need to be both very accurate and very fast."

In March, after eight years of development, the Larry Page-backed firm Kitty Hawk unveiled its autonomous flying taxi, called Cora, in New Zealand.

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(Image: Rolls-Royce)