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With Airbus’s Vahana eVTOL demonstrator recently completing its 100th test flight, the team behind the aircraft has shared new insights into the flight testing process.
In an Oct. 10 blog post, head of flight test Matt Deal and integration and test engineer Nico Kokocinski describe a typical day for the Vahana program at the Pendleton Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Range near Pendleton, Oregon. Not only has Vahana been flying without a human on board, the aircraft is completely self-piloted, following a predefined flight plan for each flight.
“No one is ever in direct control of the vehicle,” Deal and Kokocinski explain. Vahana’s pre-programmed flight plans can include climbs and descents, turns, and other maneuvers designed to reveal its performance and handling qualities. All flight plans are validated through multiple simulation methods before being flown on the full-scale aircraft.
While Vahana technically flies itself, at least seven engineers and technicians are present for each flight to monitor systems via telemetry, inspect the aircraft, and conduct the actual test. According to Deal and Kokocinski, in the event of an unexpected behavior during the flight, Vahana can perform one of several contingency maneuvers, including returning to its starting position to land, landing immediately, or activating a parachute.
To minimize such unexpected behavior, the Vahana team has expanded the aircraft’s operating envelope gradually in order to adapt the vehicle or control logic “before issues become hazards. For instance, after completing our extensive ground test campaign, Vahana flew at 12 intermediate speeds to demonstrate stability and performance between hover and its design cruise speed of 100 knots,” the authors write.