I flew an eVTOL simulator around Los Angeles and saw why they may make traditional pilots obsolete- here's what it was like

·7 min read
Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft, or eVTOLs, will likely be flying around cities in less than five years.

  • Flying them may not be traditional pilots but trained operators using simplified cockpit systems.

  • Engineers are working to make the aircraft as simple as possible to avoid a pilot shortage.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft, better known as eVTOLs or even flying cars, are scheduled to make their aerial debut flying passengers as early as 2024.

CityAirbus eVTOL
Airbus' CityAirbus electric vertical takeoff and land aircraft. Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance/Getty

Startups are nearing the finish line for the helicopter-like aircraft that aim to transform how commuters get around congested cities and how cargo is transported to remote communities.

Beta Technologies eVTOL UPS
A rendering of Beta Technologies' eVTOL aircraft. UPS

Read More: UPS reveals plan to buy hundreds of helicopter-like electric aircraft to buzz around cities delivering packages — take a look

But while the tech is set to revolutionize the skies, the question remains: who will fly them? Airlines know better than anyone that there's a global pilot shortage and the urban air mobility market is set to face a similar fate.

Joby Aviation
Joby Aviation's eVTOL design. Joby Aviation

That's why eVTOL developers are building their aircraft to fly without pilots altogether by using autonomous, self-flying technology.

Joby Aviation
Joby Aviation's eVTOL design. Joby Aviation

Read More: I flew on a self-flying plane where pilots sat back as the aircraft taxied, took off, and landed on its own and I'm convinced it's the future of aviation

Until that goal is achieved, however, there will have to be human beings flying the aircraft. And to ward against a pilot shortage grounding the UAM industry, developers are simplifying systems so that "operators" can fly them instead of the certified pilots that are in short supply.

Archer Aviation electric aircraft VTOL
Archer Aviation's eVTOL design. Archer Aviation

Honeywell Aerospace, which is responsible for around 20-35 percent of the systems that will power eVTOLs, is working to design cockpits for what it calls "simplified vehicle operations." They're designed to make flying eVTOLs easier for operators that might not have traditional flying experience.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The cockpits won't be as complex as those found on airliners or even today's helicopters. Rather, they'll be "simple, intuitive, aesthetic, [and] cool," says Stéphane Fymat, vice president and general manager of urban air mobility and unmanned aerial systems at Honeywell, in an interview with Insider.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I put my novice flying skills to the test to see if these so-called operators could replace certified pilots. Here's what I found.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The simulator was incredibly basic but featured some of the tech that operators will be using. Honeywell eventually wants to makes eVTOLs seem familiar to first-time users by using automobile-style speedometers and smartphone-style battery indicators, for example.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

In front of me was a primary flight display showing speed, pitch, altitude, and vertical speed, along with a map and heading indicator. For this flight, though, I'd primarily be flying visually and simulated a clear day in Los Angeles.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

On my right was a side stick that controlled the aircraft's direction as well as its altitude. Pushing forward put the aircraft in a descent while pulling back caused the aircraft to ascend, while pitch stayed relatively constant.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

On my left was the throttle. Pushing it forward increased the speed while pulling it back decreased it.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Fly-by-wire systems embedded in the aircraft's systems also offer an extra level of protection. I could turn the side stick all the way to one side and the system would stop me from flipping the aircraft.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

If at any point I lost control, all I'd need to do is throw my hands up and the aircraft would level itself. These systems are commonly found in airliners but have been translated for use in eVTOLs to increase safety through automation.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

With all that in mind, it was time to take flight.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I flew the aircraft over to our starting point in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

United Airlines announced a $1 billion order for eVTOLs from Archer Aviation with plans to offer air taxi service to Los Angeles International Airport from vertiports throughout the city. So that was what I decided to simulate.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: United just ordered $1 billion worth of eVTOLs from a startup that aims to launch intra-city passenger flights in 2024

Only 13 miles separate Dodger Stadium and Los Angeles International but the drive can be torturous, especially when navigating rush-hour traffic.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We started a timer as I lifted off from the Dodger Stadium parking lot and off we went for the non-stop flight to LAX.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The eVTOL handled beautifully as we overflew the stadium.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I followed the Harbor Freeway through downtown Los Angeles, the only obstacle between the stadium and the airport. But it was nothing the eVTOL couldn't handle.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The top speed for this aircraft is around 144 knots but some eVTOLs can travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour or greater. And those on the ground below might not even know an eVTOL is flying above them.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

"These things, when they take off, the design target is as quiet as your dishwasher at home," Frymat said. "And then when they're flying overhead, you don't hear them."

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It was a straight shot to the airport after clearing the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

As this was just a simulation, we didn't have to worry about other aircraft in the area or talking to air traffic control, both of which might add to the flight time. The skies above Los Angeles see no shortage of airliners and general aviation aircraft.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Los Angeles International soon came into view and I started slowing down to prepare for landing.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The one thing the simulator didn't have was a way to look beneath the aircraft, so I'd have to use my best judgment.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I touched down in the airport's ride-share parking lot. Total flight time: just under four minutes.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Of course, there is a lot that simulations don't take into account such as adverse weather, air traffic control, and other aircraft. But, I was impressed at easy it was to control the eVTOL.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And while this was only a simulation, this level of simplicity will be required if eVTOL firms want to move away from traditional pilots and hire operators, instead.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

One thing that was clear is that eVTOLs truly have the ability to change the typical notion of place. The next flight was simulated was from downtown Los Angeles to San Diego, which took less than 30 minutes.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

If an eVTOL firm can offer that service for a reasonable price, then what's to stop a person from working in Los Angeles and living in San Diego.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And if the promises of a 2024 introduction for the aircraft hold true, the world is set to become a drastically smaller place in just three years.

Honeywell eVTOL Simulator
Flying Honeywell's eVTOL simulator. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read the original article on Business Insider

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting