An electric aircraft capable of taking off and landing like a helicopter has received a US regulatory permit to begin test flights – paving the way for delivery to the US Air Force in 2024 and the possible start of an air taxi service in 2025.
Built by California-based Joby Aviation, the aircraft is designed to take off and land like a helicopter while also being capable of tilting its six rotors horizontally in forward flight to reach speeds of up to 322 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour). It could eventually carry one pilot and four passengers for either US military or commercial operations.
“This production aircraft comes after flying three full-scale prototypes more than 1000 times and thousands of miles over the past six years,” says Mike Hirschberg at the Vertical Flight Society in Virginia.
Despite the interest from both the US military and investors, electric flying cars have often struggled from both a technological and business standpoint. In 2022, the prominent Kittyhawk flying car company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page shut down after spending years trying to develop an inexpensive air taxi service.
The newest permit issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration provides special approval for Joby to perform flight tests of its first production aircraft, following earlier tests with demonstrator and prototype aircraft. Full regulatory certification that would allow Joby to start charging passengers for commercial flights is still about 18 months away, says Hirschberg.
Joby’s aircraft could eventually carry one pilot and four passengers as part of a commercial aerial ridesharing service. The company’s website depicts a scenario of shuttling people from New York City’s Manhattan Island to JFK International Airport in Queens, and it has partnered with Delta Air Lines on that possibility.
But Joby first plans to deliver its aircraft to Edwards Air Force Base in California by 2024. It is part of a $131 million contract with the US Air Force under the military’s Agility Prime programme that has already enabled four Air Force pilots to train on flying the electric aircraft remotely from the ground.
Joby’s aircraft relies on electric batteries to power each of its six tiltrotors and has a flight range of up to 161 kilometres (100 miles). The all-electric propulsion allows the aircraft to operate without carbon emissions in flight, although the overall carbon footprint depends on the electricity sources used to charge the batteries.