Bellwether Industries, an urban air mobility (UAM) startup in the United Kingdom, has completed its first test flight of its two-seat Volar eVTOL aircraft prototype in Dubai last month.
The company said it will be ready to share a video of the test flight soon, but told eVTOL.com that it was able to log eight test flights with its half-scale model during the session — an accomplishment for the team that has now graduated from a year of indoor tethered flights.
The eVTOL developer is targeting the private urban aircraft market for intracity travel, and has built the Volar as a compact vehicle with a hidden propulsion system. The final aircraft will measure 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) wide, which is about 1.5 m (5 ft) wider than an average car.
“A lot of the problems we have is the vehicle doesn’t look like an aircraft, so when people see it, they don’t see how it could work or how it could fly but it’s real,” said Kai-Tse Lin, chief operating officer and co-founder of Bellwether. Through the first test flight, Lin said the company has been able to demonstrate the vehicle’s controllability.
Compared to some of the bigger players in the eVTOL space, Bellwether is a younger startup, established in 2019 by four college classmates. But Lin and fellow co-founder Daniel Chen began experimenting in the space in 2013 when the duo started building their first hovercraft called the Gazelle, which made its debut at the International Young Designers’ Exhibition (YODEX) in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2015.
“We made that model hover, but we couldn’t make it fly because it was too heavy,” Lin said. Nevertheless, he said “that was an important milestone for the team to establish this idea of flying vehicles. We continued to develop the idea, and then we went to the U.K. to start a bigger team and a new project. Then we founded the company.”
Up until now, the startup has remained mum about its project, but recently decided to make public appearances at the DroneX Trade Show and AIRTAXI World Congress this fall, and then more recently at the Dubai Airshow in November where its aircraft was shown to the public for the first time.
These public appearances are vital steps for the company to draw investors for its next seed round. In addition to the US$1 million that the company raised last year from angel investors, Bellwether said it needs to raise an undisclosed amount of funds to build a full-scale working prototype with integrated subsystems, as well as expand its engineering team.
The current prototype is a two-seat eVTOL, but Bellwether said its final vehicle will be a four- to five-seat aircraft that can transport families around traffic-congested cities.
During the test flight, the prototype was remotely piloted and flew up to four meters (13 feet) at a speed of around 40 kilometers an hour (25 miles an hour). The company said its final design will be able to cruise at altitudes of up to 915 m (3,000 ft), speeds of 220 km/h (135 mph), and have a maximum take-off weight of 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds).
Lin said the team is planning to design a fully electric VTOL, but as the Volar is still in its early stages of development, Bellwether is not taking anything off the table. He said the team is targeting a battery system with a duration of 60 to 90 minutes that would be capable to carrying out intracity trips.
“We’re open to all kinds of power sources, but the vehicle control and the basic system will still be electric,” Lin said.
Along with designing the aircraft, Bellwether is exploring other business models — namely an air traffic management system and UAM infrastructure. Lin said the company is setting its sights at 2028 to bring the Volar to market, and is working closely with consultants to help prepare for its type certification application with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority.
Though Lin admitted the initial price of the eVTOL in 2030 will be “like owning a private jet,” his aim is to trim away at that price over the following decade to make it comparable to owning a car. Bellwether believes that just like other technology industries, as the UAM industry matures and more companies enter the space, the development of technology and mass production will mature, gradually bringing down the price point.
“Our goal is to make the vehicle for everyone in the future,” Lin said. “Like owning a car, you’re owning a Volar.”