Brian Garrett-Glaser
By Brian Garrett-Glaser

As the managing editor of eVTOL.com, Brian covers the ecosystem emerging around eVTOLs and urban air mobility. Follow him on twitter @bgarrettglaser.

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Vertical Aerospace partners with Rolls-Royce on electric propulsion for VA-X4 eVTOL

Vertical Aerospace has partnered with Rolls-Royce Electrical to power its five-seat eVTOL aircraft, which the UK startup aims to certify by 2024. The Bristol-based startup will begin assembly of the full-scale prototype shortly and plans to fly the aircraft this year.

Vertical Aerospace VA-X4
Vertical Aerospace will partner with Rolls-Royce to design the electric propulsion system of its eVTOL prototype, the VA-X4. Vertical Aerospace Image

Rolls-Royce will design the architecture of the electric propulsion system, employing eight of the company’s “latest 100 kW-class lift and push electrical propulsion units” coupled with the power distribution and monitoring systems, according to the company’s press release.

Along with the partnership announcement, Vertical appears to have increased its range and speed targets for the company’s production eVTOL, from 100 to 120 miles (160 to 190 kilometers) and 150 mph to 200 mph (240 to 320 km/h), respectively. The company also renamed its prototypes — formerly an unnamed proof-of-concept, the Seraph, and the VA-1X — to the VA-X1, VA-X2, and VA-X4, reflecting intended passenger capacity.

“We are delighted to collaborate with Vertical Aerospace for the electrical technology that will power their pioneering eVTOL aircraft,” said Rob Watson, director of Rolls-Royce Electrical. “This exciting opportunity demonstrates our ambitions to be a leading supplier of sustainable complete power systems for the new urban air mobility market which has the potential to transform the way that people and freight move from city to city.”

Vertical Aerospace VA-X4 lake
Imagery of Vertical’s VA-X4 in flight released by the company.

This is the first commercial partnership for Rolls-Royce in the eVTOL space. In October, the company’s research testbed at Cranfield University was filmed conducting ground tests by a student. Rolls-Royce confirmed it was focused on developing hybrid and all-electric propulsion systems to be used for eVTOLs after acquiring Siemens’ electric aviation business.

The propulsion partnership is a boost for Vertical’s eVTOL development effort, which began in 2016 and flew two full-scale wingless eVTOL prototypes before unveiling the startup’s tiltrotor design in August of last year. Around 150 Rolls-Royce engineers will work with the Vertical team to develop the aircraft, according to the powertrain manufacturer.

“This collaboration builds on our existing partnerships and Vertical is well-positioned to develop the world’s leading eVTOL aircraft, certified to the highest CAA and EASA safety standards being set globally,” said Michael Cervenka, CEO of Vertical Aerospace, who previously served as head of Future Technologies at Rolls-Royce.

In February, Vertical announced Solvay would develop the aircraft’s composite structure.

An unannounced vehicle partner to Uber Elevate, Vertical received significant assistance on the design of its latest aircraft from the Elevate team. The propulsion system, with four tilting propellers mounted in front of the wing and four fixed at the rear of the wing that assist with vertical flight, bears some similarity in that respect to Uber’s eCRM-004 design, as does Archer’s Maker eVTOL.

Conscious of its well-funded competitors, Vertical has chosen to forgo sub-scale prototyping to meet its aggressive flight test and certification timeline for the VA-X4. Vertical also hired former Boeing lead flight test engineer Dean Moore to direct the company’s flight test campaign, along with numerous other experienced aerospace executives.

Rolls-Royce also partnered with Tecnam in October to develop an all-electric version of Tecnam’s P2012 twin-engine utility airplane. Dubbed the P-Volt, the aircraft is targeting entry into service later this decade with nine passenger seats, powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce motors that are yet to be described.

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