Flying Cars, Rocket Ships, Self-Piloting Drones and More Abound at UP.Summit 2023

In this special edition of the Future of FLYING newsletter, we give you an inside look at some of the most futuristic aircraft on Earth—and a roundup of the biggest news.


Cowboy hat-donning UP.Summit attendees are treated to an airshow on a clear opening night Wednesday in Dallas. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter…with a twist! This week, I’m on-site in Dallas covering the UP.Summit, an annual, invite-only gathering of 300 of the transportation industry’s most dynamic, groundbreaking, and futuristic technology companies.

Among them are many of the same aircraft you’ve seen me highlight in this column each week, from drones, to electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) designs, to spacecraft that have been to the International Space Station and back.

Among the attendees are former presidents and prime ministers, current state legislators and members of Congress, representatives from the Department of Defense, and CEOs and executives of some of the most disruptive companies in the industry, from Google’s Wing (and partner Walmart) to Volocopter to SpaceX.

Below you’ll find a roundup of the biggest announcements made during the three-day event, including from cutting-edge companies such as Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation, Sikorsky, Zipline, UP.Labs…and the list goes on and on. Without further ado, here’s what has come out of the event as Day 2 comes to a close:

Jetson Aero got seed funding…from the Black Eyed Peas’ in a move that would come as quite a surprise if you haven’t followed the artist’s evolution over the years. The longtime frontman has invested in many a tech company over the years—and even launched and acquired a few of his own.

Now, will attempt to make history by training to fly Jetson’s Jetson One, the firm’s single-seat personal eVTOL aircraft. The artist and entrepreneur would be one of the first on the planet to fly such a vehicle. Read more here.

A look at the Jetson One, built for a single pilot weighing up to 210 pounds. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Joby Aviation put pilots in the cockpit for the first time, advancing to crewed flight testing of its preproduction prototype eVTOL air taxi. Among those considered major eVTOL air taxi players (Archer Aviation, Lilium, Wisk Aero, and Volocopter to name a few), only Volocopter reached that milestone before Joby.

The next step for the manufacturer is “for credit” flight testing with the FAA, using a full-scale production prototype. The hope is for that to take place next year in time for a 2025 commercial launch with Delta Air Lines, beginning with air taxi routes in New York and Los Angeles. For a deeper dive, check out FLYING’s story from earlier this week. Meanwhile…

Archer got the ball rolling with the Air Force after the department paid out $1 million to the eVTOL firm, the first installment of what is expected to be many as part of its freshly signed contracts with AFWERX Agility Prime, worth up to $142 million. The payout was exchanged for a mobile flight simulator, which is now on its way to the Air Force.

The Air Force will train pilots to fly Archer’s Midnight eVTOL using the sim, familiarizing them with the aircraft and providing the company with valuable feedback on the pilot experience. And at an unspecified date, the company is expected to deliver up to six Midnight models to an as yet unnamed air force base. Here's a deeper dive on that news.

Boeing's Wisk Aero launched a flight test campaign in Los Angeles, bringing its Gen 5 autonomous air taxi, also known as Cora, to the City of Angels. CEO Brian Yutko said the company is the first eVTOL manufacturer to fly at a commercial airport in Los Angeles. He added that Wisk expects to fly its newer Gen 6 prototype for the first time in 2024.

"We're flying at a dense urban airport with real-world autonomous operations at work, for the third time within this past year," Yutko told FLYING at UP.Summit. "This is a step forward not only for our aircraft testing program, but for developing organizational skill at operating autonomous aircraft in complex environments."

Here’s myself and Wisk Aero CEO Brian Yutko in the company’s autonomous Gen 6 eVTOL air taxi—no flight controls present. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Sikorsky and startup Rain are automating firefighting in a collaboration that saw Rain equip a Sikorsky optionally piloted Black Hawk with its Wildfire Mission Autonomy System, taking the pilot out of the equation. The system automates just about every step of the process, from identification to dispatching to precision targeting of the blazes. Sikorsky’s Matrix autonomy suite beamed commands to the uncrewed Black Hawk.

The partnership hopes to improve response times and lower costs for firefighting companies, which are contending with an unprecedented number of blazes. More on that here.

Rain’s Balta development aircraft, equipped with its Wildfire Mission Autonomy System. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

UP.Labs and Alaska Airlines launched an incubator, with hopes of fostering six startups over the next three years. UP.Labs, a branch of UP.Partners (the host of UP.Summit), will launch the partnership with the airline in 2024.

The project will be called the Airline Venture Lab, and it’ll explore ways to address the greatest areas of friction in aviation, for both Alaska Airlines and the industry at large. Potential use cases include operational efficiency, guest experience, and the business of travel.

Reliable Robotics and the Air Force made a trio of positive findings after completing a large aircraft automation study. The partners found that the airframe they examined (which wasn’t named) could handle system upgrades without impacting remote pilot abilities. 

They also discovered that large, remotely piloted military aircraft can match the efficiency and flexibility of commercial aircraft, without the need to build a new airframe. Finally, Reliable found that its Remotely Operated Aircraft System (ROAS) could achieve the same levels of reliability required by the FAA while flying on larger airframes.

Beta Technologies opened its first electric-aircraft assembly plant in Vermont, which the company said will one day churn out 300 aircraft per year. The facility will build both the company’s eVTOL and its eCTOL (conventional takeoff and landing), which was revealed earlier this year.

The site spans 188,500 square feet and is located on a 40-acre plot of land at Burlington International Airport (KBTV), which will allow it to double in size in the future. FLYING’s Jonathan Welsh has the scoop.

Wing Drone Delivery is now serving customers in the Dallas area through a partnership with Walmart, announced in August. The agreement unites the largest retailer in the world and one of the largest corporations on the planet (Wing parent Alphabet) to deliver a variety of food and convenience items in minutes, straight to customers’ doorsteps, front yards, and more.

I’ll have more on this news Friday when I take a trip to the Dallas suburb of Frisco, where a Walmart Supercenter has been equipped to make Wing drone deliveries.

Personal eVTOL manufacturer Opener rebranded to Pivotal and launched Helix, its first scalable production aircraft. I got the chance to see the firm’s preproduction design, BlackFly, in action during a showcase Thursday morning. The aircraft showed off transitions between three phases of flight: vertical lift, forward cruise, and thrust-borne hover.

Helix will carry over many of the features of BlackFly, but it’s expected to have a more robust propulsion system, greater comfort, and possibly a higher payload capacity. A handful of customers are already flying the eVTOL, making it one of the earliest entries on the market.

UP.Summit attendees got the opportunity to see Pivotal’s Helix for the first time. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Oh, and here’s the company’s BlackFly in action:

Still with me? Here are a few more quick hitters:

Elroy Air now Has 1,000 orders in its backlog for the Chaparral, its heavy-duty cargo delivery drone.

Regent raised $60 Million and partnered with Japan Airlines to develop a system for operations in the country with its all-electric seaglider.

Zipline partnered with Mendocino Farms to deliver sandwiches, salads, and more using its P2 drone delivery system.

Zipline’s P2 delivery droid, which according to the company can carry an order of 70 chicken wings and two orders of fries. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

And finally, Verge Aero unveiled the X7 Drone, an upgraded design which the company will use to perform drone light shows.

Bonus! Here are a few more photos from my first two days in Dallas:

This SpaceX Crew Dragon cargo capsule is retired, but it previously made two trips to the International Space Station. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Here’s a neat drone—this is the Jedsy glider, which attaches to a wall mount using…Velcro! The company uses it for “window-to-window” healthcare delivery. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Above is Stoke Space’s Hopper2, a reusable upper stage rocket technology demonstrator. This particular model flew last week, maneuvering both vertically and horizontally. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

This is Dronamics’ Black Swan cargo drone, which was much larger than expected. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Here’s myself—cowboy hat and all—inside Lift Aircraft’s Hexa, with Elroy Air’s Chaparral in the background. [Courtesy: Jack Daleo/FLYING]

Like this story? We think you'll also like the Future of FLYING newsletter sent every Thursday afternoon. Sign up now.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter