Mark Robert Henning, managing director of AutoFlight Europe, discusses the company’s innovative fully electric air taxis and the challenges the company has faced on its journey so far.
Decades ago, visions of the future consisted of self-driving cars, video telephones and even robot servants. And whilst in 2022, we have autonomous vehicles, iPhones and helpful smart speakers, there is one aspect of retrofuturism that has yet to find its place in the modern day. Until now.
AutoFlight is a global high-tech startup, founded in China, dedicated to developing and manufacturing autonomous aerial vehicles. That’s right – flying cars.
These autonomous aircrafts, named ‘Prosperity I’, are much more than just electric flying cars, however. AutoFlight intends for these vehicles to operate as air taxis around bustling city centres, seating up to three passengers per flight.
And we are not light years away from having these air taxis whizzing above our heads, either. AutoFlight expects to have certification for these vehicles completed by 2025, and with plans for them to be operational by the end of the decade.
The man tasked with pulling all this together is former Airbus manager Mark Robert Henning, who joined the company at the beginning of the year. With over 26 years experience in the aviation industry, AutoFlight presents a new challenge to Henning, and it is one he is looking to tackle head on.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Henning told The Everything EV Podcast. “It’s a change from what I did before. This is the revolution of flying because now we can develop something that is really going to change the way mobility can be provided to our society.
“It’s going to be a super journey to get there. We will a see a lot of development to get it done. Everybody is really supporting to get air taxis working. We have so many people pulling in the same direction, so this is really going to happen.”
It will certainly be a long and arduous journey for AutoFlight, but the company has reached one critical milestone already with the completion of the proof-of-concept, transition test flight for the Prosperity I, which took place in January this year.
Explaining how the Prosperity I works, Henning said: “The aircraft has a rear wing with high-aspect ratio, so a big wingspan to be efficient in cruise flight. We have a concept called ‘lift and cruise’ with eight propellors for vertical flight, climbing up to 150 feet, then accelerating with a propellor for cruise flight. After a certain speed, over 100kph, the aircraft will start to fly with the wings, meaning you can switch off the wing propellors. Now you can be super-efficient in cruise flight.
“On average, the cruise flight should be between 180-220kph. With that speed, and the weight of the aircraft, the project range is between 180-25km. The energy eating part of the flight, which is the vertical flight, is reduced to a very short segment, and that’s why in our configuration we can fly to a 250km range.”
With this being a project for the future, what is the timescale for AutoFlight, and how will that future look with the Prosperity I just 150m above the ground in cities all across Europe?
Henning said: “We think at the end of 2025, we can finalise our certification. After the certification is obtained for the Prosperity I, we can commence with the real transportation of human beings.
“At the beginning, it will probably be business applications. But ultimately, step by step, the more these aircrafts fly, the more services there are, and they shall be available as an alternative transportation mean for everybody. It shall not be for the rich people on the Côte d’Azur to fly out to their yachts. That is not the use case and the application that we are designing it for.”