Self-Flying Helicopter Makes World’s First Commercial Trip With Passengers

The autonomous Ehang 216 accomplished the landmark feat in China, paving the way for eVTOL air-taxi flights.

By J. George Gorant 24/07/2020

EHang wrote a new chapter in autonomous flight this week with tours in its 216 eVTOL above the fisherman’s wharf in Yantal, China. The aircraft manufacturer has demonstrated for several years that the 216 can fly without a pilot. But this is the first time any maker of any eVTOL has moved from prototype to commercial air tourism, showing the craft’s potential as an air taxi.

“The positive support and feedback have strengthened our determination in our quest to bring this new style of mobility to the people,” CEO Hu Huazhi said following the flights.

The Yantal sightseeing trip was the culmination of a two-year world tour where the 216 has done more than 2000 flights in 21 cities and six countries.

This week’s sightseeing flight over Yantal, China, is the first time an eVTOL maker has moved from prototype to commercial flight. Ehang

The 216 is a two-seat aircraft with 16 propellers turned by 16 electric motors and powered by a 17-kW battery. The aircraft cruises at roughly 100km/h, with a range of around 32km, depending on payload, according to published reports. While it flies itself autonomously, its operations can be overseen by either the passengers onboard or a central control station. The aircraft also has back-up systems that provide fail-safe protection.

China-based Ehang, listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the symbol EH, has been faster to market than other competitors in the sector. It recently announced it would partner with the LN Holdings in Shenzen, China, to offer air-taxi service to and from the LN Garden Hotel.

The company has targeted air taxi service as a major potential market, but it also projects the 216 will play a role in short-range delivery, emergency response and commercial logistics. The company said it plans to begin production of the 216 in Austria later this year.

Ehang did not say if it plans to offer more flights over the Yantal waterfront. “This was my first time experiencing such a bird’s-eye view,” said one of the participants after the ten-minute flight. “I can’t wait to take another trip.”

 

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