Australian company AMSL Aero has unveiled what it claims to be the world’s first electric air ambulances, launching the first prototype aircraft in Sydney on Wednesday as part of a partnership with air-rescue organisation CareFlight.
The Vertiia prototype has been designed to take-off vertically, like a helicopter, but once airborne, flies with the aid of fixed wings, in the same way as a plane does. AMSL Aero says that this combination provides the aircraft with significant flexibility in where it can land, while also providing greater speed and energy efficiency.
The company says that the aircraft would reach a cruising speed of up to 300 km/h and a range of up to 250km as an all-electric model with batteries, and a hydrogen fuelled version achieving a range of up to 800km.
The aircraft was launched by deputy prime minister and transport minister Michael McCormack, who welcomed the prospect of an all-electric aircraft that had the ability to access difficult areas.
“I remember growing up and watching the Jetsons and marveling at that futuristic technology. It’s right here, right now and it’s happening,” McCormack said.
“What an exciting day to think that we’ve got a what will be a carbon neutral plane taking off, landing, in sites where there’s a mass casualty or indeed a hospital where somebody’s young, or somebody not so young, needs urgent medical retrieval and in sometimes even country areas, you can’t get to places easily”
AMSL Aero CEO Andrew Moore says the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) allows the aircraft to access areas without the need of a runway, and it had entered into a partnership with CareFlight for the development of an “electric aero ambulance”, that could provide crucial medical support to regional communities.
“Vertiia will instantly enable greater access to medical services for vulnerable remote, rural, and regional communities, offering new models of care through rapid and low-cost connectivity,” Moore said.
“Unlike aeromedical planes that require a runway, Vertiia will carry patients directly from any location straight to the hospital, significantly reducing the complexity and time transporting vulnerable patients.
“It will also be quieter and safer than helicopters, and will eventually cost as little as a car to maintain and run, transforming aeromedical transport into a far more affordable, accessible, safer, and reliable option.”
CareFlight’s medical director Dr Toby Fogg said that the organisation had been attracted to the Vertiia aircraft, as its efficiency and lower operational costs, while providing the same flexibility as a helicopter, meant that it could potentially deploy more aircraft for the same cost, reaching more people needing assistance.
“Initial scoping and modelling suggest that with Vertiia we would be able to reach more Australians. For example, the price point of operating Vertiia versus helicopters and fixed wing aircraft would mean we can purchase a much larger fleet aircraft, by several multiples. The lower operational costs would allow us to hire more doctors, nurses and paramedics,” Fogg said.
AMSL Zero was founded in Australia in 2017 by co-founders Andrew Moore and Siobhan Lyndon with the initial versions of the aircraft having the ability to carry a pilot, a medic as well as transporting a patient.
The partnership between AMSL Aero and CareFlight is being supported as part of a $3 million Cooperative Research Centres Project grant, and would include the University of Sydney and autonomy and sensing specialists, Mission Systems as part of the collaboration.
CareFlight pilots will be involved in the design of the Vertiia aircraft, ensuring it meets the needs of medical services and could see electric air ambulances deployed within the next few years.
The company already has its eyes set on the creation of a commercial version of the aircraft having the capacity to transport up to four people.
Both the all-electric and hydrogen fuelled versions of the aircraft have the potential to operate with zero associated greenhouse gas emissions.
A prototype of the Vertiia aircraft was unveiled at AMSL’s aerodrome located at Bankstown Airport in Sydney, where the aircraft has been undergoing construction. The aircraft is expected to undertake test flights from a facility at Narromine Airport, just outside of Dubbo.
The Vertiia aircraft is being touted as one of the world’s most energy efficient aircraft and has the potential to be deployed in a range of applications, including commercial transport and flying taxis.