Commercial

Boeing’s eVTOL Air Taxi Prototype Achieves First Flight

By Woodrow Bellamy III | January 24, 2019
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Boeing's passenger air vehicle prototype aircraft achieved its first flight in Manassas, Virginia. Photo: Boeing

Boeing has completed the first flight of its passenger air vehicle prototype Tuesday, Jan. 22, taking a crucial first step toward fielding a electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

During the first flight, the prototype completed a controlled takeoff, hover and landing, which tested the vehicle's autonomous functions and ground control systems. Research and development for the prototype air vehicle program is being managed by Boeing NeXT and subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences.

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“We are looking at flight ranges up to 50 miles and are developing both two and four passenger variants,” a representative for Aurora Flight Sciences told Avionics International through an emailed statement.

Measuring 30 feet long and 28 feet wide, the prototype uses eight rotors to achieve vertical lift and a tail rotor for forward flight. The aircraft is using the electric propulsion system that Aurora originally developed for its X-24A sub scale generator, which used 24-ducted fans to feed AC power from electricity produced by three 1-megawatt generators.

No other details about the prototype’s flight controls or other systems were released by Boeing regarding the first flight.

An engineer looks at system performance on the prototype. Photo: Boeing

The development team wants to use future flights to test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. The transition phase between vertical and forward flight is seen as the biggest engineering challenging by Boeing on this program.

Boeing launched its NeXt division at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow, describing the new division as its future travel and transport arm. In November, Boeing took a step toward developing air taxi infrastructure by announcing their intention to launch an urban airspace management joint venture with artificial intelligence company SparkCognition.

Boeing and SparkCognition's SkyGrid want to use blockchain technology, artificial intelligence-enabled dynamic traffic routing and data analytics to enable air taxi operations.

During a panel discussion on the future of urban air mobility at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg provided more perspective on how to think about air taxis in the future.

“Think of urban areas going to three dimensions. Electrically powered autonomous vehicles equipped with artificial intelligence, smart routing — that technology is being demonstrated right now. The passenger air vehicle is an exciting forefront for us — think about urban flying taxis. Traffic in dense urban areas is going to quickly to go from two dimensions to three dimensions, and once you free up that third dimension, the amount of efficiency you free up is extraordinary,” Muilenburg said.

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