Droning on at the Urban-Air Port

The publicity says that this is “the world’s first fully operational Urban-Air Port for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and drone technology”. It’s called Air-One. Our Secretary, John Payne, has visited it and gives us his impressions. John writes…

What you will see when you visit the demonstration is a large tentlike structure. At the centre is a circular platform which lifts up level with the roof for the takeoff and landing of drones.

Cargo drone ready to takeoff

We watched two drone demonstrations. The first was a logistics drone with a payload of 70 kg. It carried a big box underneath, which could be used for the delivery of goods. It was said to be the first use of such a large drone in an urban environment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually see the drone once it had taken off as for safety reasons we weren’t allowed out of the tent.

The second demonstration was more impressive. The West Midlands Police demonstrated one of their large drones and the view from the drone was broadcast through a TV screen at the airport. The drone showed impressive quality photos from a very stable platform. The drone had an amazing zoom feature that is said to be able to see a vehicle number plates from two miles away. There was also an automatic tracking feature. The controller can identify a particular person or vehicle of interest and the drone and camera will automatically track its movements.

The view from the Police drone

The Police drones also have thermal imaging capacity which is particularly useful in nighttime operations. At present the West Midlands Police have twelve drones, all of which have been purchased through Proceeds of Crime funding.

You watch all this from an airport like environment with a functioning airport café selling coffee and prosecco and surrounding retail displays. Air-One’s departures board shows flights to destinations including Bristol, Cambridge and London, although the only actual flights don’t get beyond the carpark. Around the outside were various stalls demonstrating different aspects of this new technology.

A robot vacuum cleaner cleans the airport!

Skyfarer is a Coventry based drone technology business utilising autonomous flight technology to deliver vital medical supplies (including blood, vaccines and organs) with competitive speed and efficiency without the need for expensive infrastructure. They have been doing development work with Coventry’s University Hospital. They displayed an interesting looking large drone which was capable of delivery medical supplies.

Skyfarers’s medical delivery drone

The largest flying machine present at the demonstration was a full-sized mockup of a Supernal vertical takeoff aircraft which was firmly fixed to the floor. It is to be constructed of lightweight materials and will be battery powered. It will have a range of 150 miles and fly at speeds of up to 150 mph. It would fly from airport to airport and comply with current air traffic control features. It is due to fly in 2028. Supernal is part of the Hyundai company and is sponsoring the Unban-air Port initiative.

Supernal’s four seater vertical take off electric e-taxi

Drones are permitted to fly below 400 ft. They have built in collision avoidance technology and protocols to deal with loss of control, for instance staying stationary or returning to base. In the longer term it is anticipated that a city like Coventry could have three such airports and there would be a need for unified traffic management to control it all. One of the displays showed how this could happen. Drones have an advantage over helicopters in that they are much quieter and therefore more acceptable in an urban environment.

The ”tent” is a temporary structure, but the framework could be used for a permanent structure.  There were a number of models on display of other possible structures for drone airports in different settings.

In conclusion, after visiting the demonstration I now feel that there is some realism in the idea of a “drone airport” but forget the science fiction – you might have a long wait for an air taxi!

There is still chance to visit the Urban-Air Port demonstration at Westminster Road Car Park for free until 15th May. It will then be going on tour in an attempt to attract more investors.

Book your visit here.

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