The UAM industry is full of fantastic prototypes of urban air mobility vehicles. But before we start to use them, we need to depend on helicopters.
There are plenty of urban air mobility vehicles ideas. Most of them aim to utilize drone technologies and other groundbreaking solutions. However, the most popular aircraft in the UAM industry right now is the old, good helicopter. What is the key to its success? And will helicopters be eventually replaced by new urban air mobility vehicles?
Helicopter — the first VTOL aircraft
By its definition, helicopters suit very well into the idea of urban air mobility. Those vehicles are in fact the first functional VTOL aircraft ever made by human hand. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, VTOL aircraft translate directly into “vertical take-off and landing”. This ubiquitous vehicle has been with us for almost a century.
The key to the success of helicopters lies in their versatility. Unlike planes, helicopters don’t need a runway to take-off and land. It greatly expands their capabilities, allowing them to operate in environments not available for other aircraft. Being a VTOL aircraft makes helicopters a perfect urban air mobility vehicle to begin with.
Uber helicopter and other on-demand services
While more advanced urban air mobility vehicles are still under development, helicopters are perfect VTOL aircraft to show how the UAM works in practice. Thanks to their capability of vertical landing, they can operate in urban areas. That’s why some companies from the urban air mobility industry have decided to use helicopters for urban air taxi services.
Probably the most notable example is the Uber helicopter project named Uber Copter. The initiative is a part of the larger Uber Air project, and it means to show the potential of UAM vehicles. It enables urban air travels carried by Uber helicopters on a limited route in New York. Other notable on-demand helicopter service is Voom, developed by Airbus as a part of their own urban air mobility project
Precursor of urban air mobility vehicles
Despite their versatility, helicopters still have some flaws. They are large, loud, and they need a well-practiced pilot to operate safely in the city environment. Still, they are an important stage in the development of urban air mobility vehicles. They allow us to see how VTOL aircraft work in urban areas. It is an extremely helpful way to convince people to UAM.
Further development of urban air mobility will eliminate most troubling disadvantages of helicopters. Lighter and more reliable electric VTOL aircraft will be even more versatile than them. Moreover, autonomous, remote control will eliminate the need for capable human pilots. It will also significantly reduce the risk of an accident. But before we will be able to travel in more advanced UAM vehicles, we need to rely on projects like Uber helicopter to show society how UAM works.