Photo courtesy of A^3
Project Vahana only went 16 feet into the air for 53 seconds, but the team behind the unmanned aerial system were ecstatic.
Representatives from A^3, the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Airbus and the Federal Aviation Administration were on hand to watch the first test flight of its air taxi vehicle at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range on Wednesday morning.
The taxi is 1,652 pounds and nearly 19 feet long, according to Vahana Project executive Zach Lovering, about the length of a Chevrolet Suburban but less than a third of the weight. There were no people inside the UAS when it left the ground.
In an interview Friday, Lovering said he had to remind himself to breath as he watched Vahana take off.
“My heart rate went through the roof,” he said.
The first test was the culmination of two years of work from a team of about 30 people. A^3 established a presence in Pendleton when they moved into a new 9,600 square-foot hangar at the airport specifically built for UAS companies.
Although Wednesday’s test was basic, Lovering said the A^3 team will steadily ramp up testing over the next year.
Future operations will test Vahana’s range of motion and its response to directional winds, and implement an autonomous system for independent flight.
As a final product, Vahana will be an autonomous air taxi that will be able to ferry passengers in an urban environment. A^3 has said it could have further applications, like cargo delivery, search and rescue, first aid and disaster response.
Wednesday’s launch was a far cry from the range’s first test in 2015, when range personnel flew a small quad-copter drone in an empty wheat field for a few minutes.
Neither Range Manager Darryl Abling nor Steve Chrisman, airport manager and economic development director, responded to a request for comment as of press time.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.