Aerospace giant Boeing has put its first all-electric air passenger taxi through its paces, in a test flight conducted this week at the site of its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia under its Boeing NeXt urban air mobility program.
The air taxi (referred to by the aerospace company as a “PAV” – passenger air vehicle) is a drone-like vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft with four rigid arms with horizontal propellers, and two wings and a tail with rear propeller for forward thrust.
Capable of 50 miles (about 80 kilometres) of flight on a single charge, the 30 foot-long aircraft is designed to taxi people for short distance urban commutes, and Aurora Flight Sciences says it is developing both two and four passenger variants.
It’s also capable of autonomous flight – and, yes, the first flight was done without a person on board, using the air taxi’s inbuilt control systems from ground control.
While the flight was a very simple controlled take-off, hover and landing, it demonstrates a new technology that Boeing thinks could change the shape of urban transport.
“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” said John Langford, president and chief executive officer of Aurora Flight Sciences in a statement to the press.
“Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”
Progress has been fast: Boeing’s NeXt division fired up the air taxi concept only last year and acquired Aurora Flight Sciences in October 2018.
“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop in a statement.
“Boeing’s expertise and innovation have been critical in developing aviation as the world’s safest and most efficient form of transportation, and we will continue to lead with a safe, innovative and responsible approach to new mobility solutions.”
With the first successful flight nailed, Boeing NeXt is also eyeing off the all-electric cargo space – its first cargo air vehicle was tested successfully in an indoor environment in 2018 and the electric aerospace division is now making plans to begin outdoor testing later this year.