Last month, Bellwether Industries, a UK-based urban air mobility (UAM) company, performed the first test flight of its two-seat Volar eVTOL aircraft prototype in Dubai.
The company said it would be ready to share a test flight video in the coming weeks. Still, it told eVTOL.com that it could log eight test flights with its half-scale model during the session — a significant accomplishment for the team, which has now graduated from a year of indoor tethered flights.
The eVTOL developer aims for the private urban aircraft market for intracity travel with the Volar, designed as a compact vehicle with a remote propulsion system. The whole aircraft will be 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) wide, about 1.5 meters (5 feet) wider than a typical vehicle.
“A lot of the problems we have is the vehicle doesn’t look like an aircraft, so when people see it, they don’t see how it could work or how it could fly, but it’s real,” said Kai-Tse Lin, chief operating officer and co-founder of Bellwether. Lin said the company had demonstrated the vehicle’s controllability through the first test flight.
Bellwether is a fresh start-up, founded in 2019 by four college friends, compared to some of the larger companies in the eVTOL field. However, Lin and co-founder Daniel Chen began exploring the field in 2013, when they started building their first hovercraft, the Gazelle, which debuted at the International Young Designers’ Exhibition (YODEX) in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2015.
“We made that model hover, but we couldn’t make it fly because it was too heavy,” Lin said. Nevertheless, he said, “that was an important milestone for the team to establish this idea of flying vehicles. We continued to develop the idea, and then we went to the U.K. to start a bigger team and a new project. Then we founded the company.”
Until now, the start-up has kept its project under wraps, but it recently chose to make public appearances at the DroneX Trade Show and AIRTAXI World Congress this fall, and then again at the Dubai Airshow in November, where its aircraft was exhibited to the public for the first time.
These public appearances are critical for attracting investors for its next seed round. In addition to the US$1 million obtained from angel investors last year, Bellwether said it needed an undisclosed amount of money to develop a full-scale functioning prototype with integrated subsystems and increase its technical team.
The current prototype is a two-seat eVTOL, but Bellwether expects its final vehicle to be a four- or five-seat aircraft capable of transporting families around congested cities.
The prototype was remotely flown during the test flight and soared up to four meters (13 feet) at roughly 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles an hour). The final design will be able to cruise at heights of up to 915 m (3,000 ft), at speeds of 220 km/h (135 mph), and with a maximum take-off weight of 600 kg (1,320 pounds).
Lin stated that the team intends to design a fully electric VTOL, but because the Volar is still in its early phases of development, Bellwether is not ruling anything out. He stated that the team aims for a battery system with a duration of 60 to 90 minutes, capable of carrying out intracity trips.
“We’re open to all kinds of power sources, but the vehicle control and the basic system will still be electric,” Lin said.
In addition to designing the aircraft, Bellwether is looking into various business models, such as an air traffic control system and UAM infrastructure. Lin stated that the business plans to bring the Volar to market in 2028 and is working closely with advisors to prepare its type certification application with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority.
Though Lin admits that the initial cost of the eVTOL in 2030 will be “like owning a private aircraft,” his goal is to reduce that cost over the next decade to be comparable to owning a vehicle. In addition, Bellwether believes that as the UAM market evolves and more companies enter the space, the development of technology and mass production will mature, gradually lowering the price point.