Four months after the launch event for the first urban air mobility (UAM) trials at Pontoise-Cormeilles Airport, 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of Paris, France, Volocopter returned with its 2X prototype to perform a series of acoustic and vibration data collection flights this week.
While Volocopter provided the aircraft, the acoustic and vibration data was gathered collaboratively by ADP Groupe and RATP Group’s respective sound laboratories, ONERA, Bruitparif and the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC – STAC, Direction générale de l’aviation civile – Service technique de l’aviation civile).
In a short introduction before the flights, Edward Arkwright, Groupe ADP’s deputy CEO, reiterated the company’s commitment to UAM by contributing to the Pontoise-Cormeilles sandbox, which is now coming into action with these first tests.
While passenger transport is an important use case, Arkwright emphasized the potential for these aircraft to be effective in medevac and security roles. Operating public demonstration flights during the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games remains the strong focus, and a map showing the planned routes has now been published.
Interestingly, this now shows an additional vertiport location to the southeast of the city center in addition to the current heliport at Issy-les-Moulineaux. This new location is shown as the arrival point for airport transfer flights from both Paris Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget airports. Groupe ADP would not disclose the exact planned location for this new vertiport for the time being.
Pierre Becquart, head of UAM at RATP Group, stated that these acoustic and vibration tests are a crucial part of RATP’s mission, as noise is a primary factor for public acceptance. Their specialized laboratory has been working with all modes of transport in Paris for the past 60 years, and looks at all possible solutions to see how disturbance can be minimized. Therefore, the work they are doing for UAM is just a natural extension.
RATP Group will also play a main role for the provision of the associated ground infrastructure and services, and Becquart remarked how Volocopter was also using these flights to test its battery swapping procedures in a real-world operating environment.
Volocopter chief commercial officer Christian Bauer complimented the local partners’ enthusiasm and innovation, as well as the steady pace at which the Parisian UAM ecosystem is working toward the 2024 target.
Just prior to the two measurement flights planned on the morning of March 22, the acoustic engineers briefly explained how the aircraft was to fly perpendicularly over a line of microphones and vibration sensors at two preset altitudes of 25 and 50 meters (82 and 164 feet). The path would then be flown in the opposite direction for an additional set of measurements.
Another test point was having the aircraft hover at 70 m (230 ft) from the microphones to simulate vertiport operations. The collected data can then be used to model and predict noise levels in an urban environment such that flight trajectories can be optimized to minimize disturbance.
Alban Negret, head of innovation and corporate venture at Groupe ADP, said that normally aircraft would be flying much higher than this for most of the flight time and that the acoustic modelling would take this into account. In order to have minimal extraneous noise affecting the measurements, other air traffic was stopped at the airport and the adjacent karting track also suspended operations during the tests.
The two flights were piloted by Volocopter’s Paul Stone in the Volocopter 2X, D-MEVC. Both flights proceeded as planned with a battery swap in between. The swap took about 10 minutes, although this could only be observed at some distance.
Even if the flights were flown at a low level and most other ambient noise was suppressed, the aircraft’s sound was perceived to be less intrusive than that of current rotorcraft. The Volocopter 2X prototype has smaller rotors than the VoloCity model, which is the one planned to be certified. This will affect the acoustic signature.
Speaking again to Alban Negret after the flights, he said that this current test campaign would also be used to trial pilot and air traffic control communication, including contingency procedures. The next steps would then be to integrate the operations with other traffic at Pontoise Airport. Later this year, Skyports will be building a representative passenger terminal to further expand the end-to-end testing.