The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Leonardo Will Make Fuselage for Vertical's VX4 eVTOL Aircraft

Helicopter manufacturer Leonardo is to support Vertical Aerospace in developing the fuselage for its VX4 eVTOL aircraft. Under an agreement announced today, the Italian group will initially help to build six VX4s to be used for type certification test flights, but the alliance could be extended to cover planned mass production of up to 2,000 of the four-passenger aircraft each year.

At its Grottalglie site in Italy, Leonardo’s aerostructure division will design, test, manufacture, and supply the carbon fiber fuselage for the all-electric VX4. The companies say they will work together to optimize lightweight composite structures, modular design, systems integration, and structural testing for the co-development of the fuselage. The Italian facility builds aerostructures for other aircraft manufacturers, including fuselage sections for Boeing's 787 widebody airliner.

Unlike some other eVTOL aircraft developers, UK-based start-up Vertical Aerospace has placed a strong emphasis on including established aerospace companies in its program. Its partners already include Rolls-Royce, which is developing the VX4’s electric propulsion system, avionics group Honeywell, aerostructures manufacturer GKN, and Solvay.

Vertical is expanding its engineering and management team as it prepares for a first test flight of the VX4 prototype later this year. The aircraft, which is expected to complete type certification in 2024, will have a range of more than 100 miles and fly at speeds of up to 200 mph.

Last year, the company announced provisional sales agreements covering up to 1,350 aircraft potentially worth $5.4 billion. Prospective launch customers include American Airlines, leasing group Avolon, helicopter operator Bristow, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Marubeni, and Ibergjet. Avolon has agreements to supply aircraft to other carriers, including Japan Air Lines and Brazil's Gol.

Having earlier shown interest in developing a hybrid-electric tiltrotor aircraft, Leonardo has remained largely silent about possible plans to get involved in the eVTOL sector until now. “Advanced air mobility is part of Leonardo’s mandate to innovate using our cutting-edge, human-centered technology, and industrialization expertise,” said Leonardo general manager Lucio Valerio Cioffi. “We’re proud to collaborate with Vertical as part of our strategic vision in this brand-new sector.”

The Italian group said its partnership with Vertical Aerospace is part of its BeTomorrow Strategic Plan. “Leonardo, as a partner to the world’s leading commercial aircraft manufacturers, is specialized in the production and assembly of major structural composite and metallic components for commercial aircraft,” said Giancarlo Schisano, managing director of Leonardo’s aerostructures division. 

"I have been hugely impressed with Leonardo's highly innovative and industry-leading technical and manufacturing capabilities and our partnership has got off to a flying start," said Vertical Aerospace president Michael Cerevenka. "I am thrilled that Leonardo will be joining us on this journey. We have a market-leading preorder book for the VX4 and this partnership will ensure we scale the program to meet demand."

Leonardo's helicopter-making rival Airbus has already announced plans to develop a four-seat eVTOL aircraft called the CityAirbus NextGen. Boeing is partnered with Kitty Hawk in Wisk Aero's plans to bring autonomous eVTOL vehicles to market.

Separately, Vertical Aerospace has started working with London-area business aviation gateway Farnborough Airport. The companies say they will explore opportunities to develop eVTOL aircraft operations.