Rolls-Royce claims its flying taxi is just a few years away

16 Jul 2018

A concept image of the Rolls-Royce EVTOL craft mid-flight. Image: Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce aims to beat a number of well-funded start-ups to the flying taxi game with the unveiling of its own prototype craft.

While many tend to connect Rolls-Royce with its range of luxury cars, the British engineering firm has just as long a tradition in the aviation space, producing engines in some of the most famous aircraft ever built, such as the Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II.

Now, the company is looking to not only be the producer of vital components of aircraft, but also the producer of its own design, with the unveiling of its prototype electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) vehicle.

Often referred to as the ‘flying taxi’ concept, the EVTOL was unveiled at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow and is being marked for multiple uses including private ownership, public transport, logistics and even the military.

So far, the flying pod is powered using gas turbines to generate electricity for the six propulsors designed specifically with a low-noise profile.

Capable of holding five people, the craft could travel at speeds of up to 400kph with a range of more than 500km.

When the aircraft reaches its cruising height, its wings fold away to reduce drag and cabin noise, moving through the air with help from two real propellers.

Rolls-Royce said that because it is powered by gas turbines, it wouldn’t need to recharge and would be quite easy to fit in with existing infrastructure such as heliports and airports.

EVTOL craft taking off

Concept image of the EVTOL craft taking off. Image: Rolls-Royce

A race to the skies

Perhaps most interestingly is the fact that Rolls-Royce seems quite confident in its design, saying this EVTOL model could be available by the middle of the next decade, provided that a viable commercial model for its introduction can be created.

“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,” said Rob Watson, head of the company’s electrical team.

“Building on our existing expertise in electric technologies and aviation, Rolls-Royce is actively exploring a range of possible markets and applications for electric and hybrid electric flight.”

The company now joins a growing list of major companies and start-ups entering the EVTOL space, with Uber being particularly vocal in its desire to be the first to offer an airborne option to its ride-hailing service.

Elsewhere, a number of growing start-ups such as Lilium (which is based in Germany) are attempting to beat the larger companies to the punch.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic