Much of the eVTOL scene focuses on urban air mobility, but long-range eVTOL is equally as important. As the name suggests, it’ll be for longer journeys than simply commuting to work from a nearby parking garage.
But how does the greater distance impact the eVTOL’s design? Are these changes considerable enough for us to consider it a separate branch entirely? Let’s take a look.
What is a Long-Range eVTOL?
The easiest way to think of a long-range eVTOL is as an airplane. Most designs look like a standard airplane but with electric engines. Of course, as the name implies, they also takeoff and land vertically, which is less common for a standard plane.
What do we mean by long-range, though? The answer varies by eVTOL, but typically it’s more than 100 miles. The Lilium Jet, one of the most famous, has a range of 190 miles (300km). The EHang VT-30 also has a range of 190 miles.
Use Cases for Long-Range eVTOL
So, where would we use these models and for what purpose? It’s easiest to think about them in opposition to urban air mobility eVTOLs, which do short, quick journeys.
A long-range eVTOL would instead transport passengers between 2 cities or from an airport to their home. Think of journeys where you might take a taxi, bus or coach, and that’s where you’d use a long-range eVTOL.
Design Elements of Long-Range eVTOL
The distance an eVTOL travels has a surprising impact on its design. Think of the difference between a helicopter and an airplane and what they do. It should give you a better understanding. Let’s look at the major design elements of a long-range eVTOL for more information.
An urban eVTOL typically follows a drone multicopter design. The rotors are mounted on the top, typically in a circle. It provides lift and some level of horizontal propulsion.
Long-range eVTOLs, however, often have separate rotors for horizontal and vertical movement. The EHang VT-30 has a rear propeller and then 4 wing-mounted propellers.
The Lilium Jet is a far more technical solution. It has ducted jets that provide vectored thrust. In short, it means the rotors move between horizontal and vertical positions, and the ducts help channel air better.
A major difference between the 2 types of eVTOL is the presence of wings. An urban eVTOL doesn’t really need wings, as most of its movement will be vertical. Sure, it’ll travel horizontally but with a lot more vertical lift.
A long-range eVTOL will spend most of its movement time in horizontal flight. After all, a 190-mile journey is essentially 190 miles of horizontal flight with a small lift and landing procedure.
Wings therefore make perfect sense because they provide in-flight lift and improve the eVTOL’s aerodynamics. In short, it means less energy to move the aircraft forward.
Some long-range eVTOLs are autonomous, although some aren’t. For example, the Lilium Jet has a pilot but can carry up to 6 passengers. Volocopter’s VoloConnect, however, is autonomous and can carry 4 passengers.
There’s no real merit to either for long-range flights. That said, it makes more sense for these to be autonomous than urban eVTOLs, simply because there’ll be fewer hazards (theoretically) in open space.
You can check out this video for a more detailed look at the Lilium Jet’s tech.
Long-range eVTOLs don’t necessarily have larger batteries than urban eVTOLs, even though they have a much greater range. This more comes down to their aerodynamics and power usage.
Vertical lift is by far the more energy-intensive process. So, by extension, an aircraft that does this less has more power to use for horizontal flight. Combine this with the wings and you’ve got an aircraft that can coast more than pushing itself along.
Of course, they’ll often have bigger battery packs. But, considering we’re mostly at the limit of lithium-ion battery tech, there comes a point when adding more to increase power reserves stops being viable.
That said, most of the long-range eVTOLs are much bigger than their urban counterparts. For example, the Lilium Jet is 28ft. long with a wingspan of 45.6ft. The Volocopter, however, is 10ft. long and 30ft. wide.
Urban eVTOL vs. Long-Range eVTOL
To an extent, it’s fair to look at these as separate disciplines united in the larger eVTOL concept. It’s like thinking about helicopters and airplanes – they’re both aircraft but do very different things.
So, what will the future look like? Will it be one or the other, or will they work alongside each other?
Using a Long-Range eVTOL
As mentioned, long-range eVTOLs will be useful for inter-city travel or moving from a suburban area to a city. They could replace cars for commuting. A city worker could go to their nearest vertiport, get in a Lilium Jet, and fly to another vertiport on the outskirts of the city.
Using an Urban eVTOL
From there, they could get an urban air taxi to their place of work. We’ve discussed the use cases for urban eVTOLs before, and this is their most obvious. So, the same worker could essentially fly from their home to their workplace using different eVTOLs.
Building Suitable Vertiports
That said, one of the biggest difficulties will be designing vertiports that support both types of eVTOL. UAMs have smaller footprints and can be landed in more compact areas. A long-range eVTOL, however, would need more than 50ft. of landing space.
The solution might not be that difficult. After all, the larger aircraft wouldn’t be seen in cities, and it shouldn’t be impossible to build a suitable sized vertiport on the outskirts of a city. They just might be less common that urban vertiports because they need more room.
Final Thoughts on Long-Range eVTOL
A long-range eVTOL could address plenty of environmental concerns when compared to cars and other road vehicles. That said, their uses probably aren’t as broad as urban eVTOLs.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. We’ll likely see fusions of the 2 designs to cut down on production and operation costs, which could change the industry completely.