Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences conducted the first test flight of its all-electric autonomous passenger air vehicle. The unpiloted vehicle took off vertically, hovered for a few seconds, and then landed at the company’s test site in Manassas, Virginia. Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes.
Developers described it a significant step toward a future in which autonomous eVTOL air taxis carry passengers and cargo in and around cities. Boeing is one of dozens of companies that are pursuing some form of eVTOL air taxi model, but as one of the largest aviation companies in the world, it has the engineering and technical resources to bring something to the market sooner than later.
With a range of up to 50 miles, the aircraft is 30 feet long and 28 feet wide. Its advanced airframe uses movable propellers and wings to achieve efficient hover and forward flight.
The test was conducted by Boeing’s futuristic NeXt division, which also oversees a heavy-duty drone prototype that’s capable of lifting a 500-pound payload. The so-called “cargo air vehicle” conducted its first indoor flight test last year, and will move to outdoor testing later this year, Boeing says.
Aurora Flight Sciences, an aviation and aeronautics research company, was acquired by Boeing in 2017. It is one of a handful of firms that have partnered with Uber in an effort to develop a network of “flying taxis” that operate on the ride-hailing company’s forthcoming Uber Elevate service, which it plans to launch in 2023.