Three electric aircraft projects—the Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV), Cargo Air Vehicle (CAV), and Odysseus ultra-long-endurance UAV—are gaining momentum at Boeing’s NeXt division, Aurora Flight Sciences v-p of communications and marketing Blythe Jameson told AIN on Monday at the Dubai Airshow. A PAV prototype is on display in a mini pavilion near its static display (S16), while scale models of its CAV and solar/battery-powered Odysseus can be found at its indoor exhibit (Stand 1110).
Two of the three vehicles—PAV and Odysseus—were designed and built by Aurora, a rapid prototyping company that Boeing acquired two years ago in a bid to accelerate its entry into the electric aircraft realm. “The fully-autonomous PAV, which is intended as an urban air mobility vehicle, was designed, built, and flown in one year,” according to Jameson.
Boeing’s PAV eVTOL prototype did begin flying in January, but it crashed during its fifth test flight in June. “We learned some lessons from that incident and now expect to resume test flying the second PAV prototype early in the New Year,” she said, revealing the first concrete return-to-flight schedule since the crash.
Boeing's NeXt engineering team continues to research battery technologies for the PAV as well as whether it should employ swappable or fixed batteries, she added. Boeing has also partnered with SparkCognition on SkyGrid, an AI- and blockchain-powered airspace management software platform that will help enable safe operation of the PAV in the crowded urban air environment.
The company’s pre-programmed-controlled CAV, which will be able to carry loads of up to 500 pounds and eventually will be fully autonomous, has conducted “dozens” of test flights since taking to the skies in May, said Jameson. The vehicle, which weighs 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms), has six dual-rotor systems and 12 propellers.
Meanwhile, Aurora Flight Sciences is preparing to begin flight testing of the high-altitude Boeing Odysseus by year-end. The company initially planned to fly the airplane, which sports six electric motors, earlier this year but hit undisclosed development snags.
The Odysseus UAV has a wingspan of 243 feet (74 meters)—“larger than the Boeing 777X,” Jameson pointed out—and, thanks to wing-mounted solar panels, indefinite range/endurance. “Once airborne, it needs to land only for routine maintenance,” she said.
Boeing envisions three major markets for Odysseus—earth science, including atmospheric research; communications relay; and defense.