Boeing’s Autonomous Air Taxi Completes First Flight

 - January 23, 2019, 12:00 PM
Boeing NeXT made the first flight of its passenger air vehicle yesterday.

A Boeing prototype for an unmanned passenger air vehicle (PAV) “successfully” completed its first test flights, marking another milestone of the OEM’s efforts to take a leading position in the development of autonomous transportation and urban mobility. The PAV complements Boeing’s autonomous all-electric cargo air vehicle, or CAV, which is designed to transport up to 500 pounds (227 kg) within a radius of up to 20 miles. The CAV prototype completed its first indoor flight test in January last year and will transition to outdoor flight testing this year.

Powered by an electric propulsion system, the PAV prototype is designed for fully autonomous flight from takeoff to landing, with a range of up to 50 miles (80 km). Measuring 30 feet (9.14 meters) long and 28 feet wide, its airframe integrates the propulsion and wing systems to achieve efficient hover and forward flight.

The air-taxi concept demonstrator completed a controlled takeoff, hover, and landing during the flight, which tested the vehicle's autonomous functions and ground control systems. The flight took place in Manassas, Virginia on Tuesday, Boeing said. Future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. This transition phase is typically the most significant engineering challenge for any high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, the OEM noted.

“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop. “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.”

Boeing enlisted Aurora Flight Sciences to design and develop the electric VTOL aircraft. It acquired the Virginia-based company in October 2017. It now resides under Boeing NeXt, which Boeing launched at the Farnborough air show last year to consolidate its research and development efforts in autonomous flight and advanced propulsion.