Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.
Now for this week’s top story:
Joby Picks Ohio Over California for First Manufacturing Plant
What happened? The city council of Marina, California, will be sorely disappointed. The town, home to Joby’s pilot production line, was passed over as the site of the company’s first full-scale manufacturing facility. The plant will eventually produce 500 air taxi units every year and is expected to create some 2,000 jobs. It could one day encompass 2 million square feet.
Scaling up: The Ohio site at the Dayton International Airport (KDAY) will be funded by a $500 million investment from Joby mixed with incentives from state and local groups. It could also qualify for the Department of Energy’s Title XVII loan guarantee program as a clean energy project. Toyota, Joby’s biggest backer, will advise the company on the road to mass production.
The facility won’t be fully operational until 2025. But it will be an invaluable piece of the puzzle for a company looking to get its air taxis buzzing over major U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles by 2025. Beyond that, the FAA is eyeing scaled electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) operations in time for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
A blow to Marina: Joby’s Marina facility just rolled out the company’s first eVTOL aircraft production model in June. But while the company reportedly has plans to continue expanding in California, the heartbeat of its manufacturing activities will be in Ohio. Detroit and North Carolina were also considered.
Ohio is considered the birthplace of aviation—the Wright brothers lived and worked there, and Dayton, the site of the facility, is also home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the headquarters of the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), which has been a key partner for Joby.
Quick quote: “We’re building the future of aviation right where it all started, in Dayton, Ohio,” said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby. “The Wright brothers harnessed revolutionary technology of their time to open up the skies, and we intend to do the same—this time, bringing quiet and emissions-free flight that we hope will have an equally profound impact on our world.”
My take: The Wright brothers would probably cower in fear if they saw Joby’s eVTOL in the skies. But their old stomping ground was likely an ideal choice for Joby.
The Air Force presence is huge. In June, Joby agreed to ship nine eVTOLs to Edwards Air Force Base in California, part of its three-year, $131 million contract with AFWERX, the department’s innovation arm. Don’t be shocked if Wright-Patterson is the next military installation to follow suit.
Outside that, Dayton International Airport gives the company tons of room to work with. The plant is initially slated to take up around 580,000 square feet, but the airfield is big enough for that to nearly quadruple in size as production scales up. Plus, the backing of state and local stakeholders such as JobsOhio doesn’t hurt. For this to work, the local community needs to be on board.
In all, it’s a positive step for Joby, which remains on track to be one of the earliest entrants into the advanced air mobility (AAM) space.
In Other News…
Beta Technologies Chargers Headed to the Air Force
What happened? Beta is the alpha when it comes to installing eVTOL chargers on air force bases. The company agreed to send its proprietary system to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, marking the first time the Air Force has deployed the tech at a base. Notably, the chargers aren’t just for Beta aircraft, one of which is also being sent to Eglin—they’ll work on just about any electric vehicle.
You’ve heard of eVTOL…: …but how about eCTOL? That stands for electric conventional takeoff and landing and is the description Beta applied to its recently launched CX300 electric airplane. Interestingly, that’s the model being sent to Eglin rather than the flagship Alia-250 eVTOL the company has been building for years.
It’s unclear whether that was Beta’s decision or the Air Force’s. But it’s notable that one or the other is interested in experimenting with the eCTOL variant over the original. That could simply be due to timing—the conventional takeoff design is expected to fly before its eVTOL counterpart.
Zipline the Latest Drone Delivery Player to Receive BVLOS Approval
What happened? South San Francisco-based Zipline is the fourth in a string of drone delivery firms to receive FAA approval for operations beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot. Phoenix Air Unmanned, UPS Flight Forward, and uAvionix are the other three—all four will serve to simplify the BVLOS grant process, according to the FAA.
The rich get richer: If you follow the industry, you know this is a big deal. But if you’re wondering what all the hubbub is about: Since U.S. drone operators are required to monitor the airspace along routes using visual observers, the ability to fly beyond their purview could double or even triple Zipline’s service area. In addition, it cuts costs to make the entire operation more efficient.
Zipline was arguably the undisputed top dog of drone delivery prior to this approval, having completed three-quarter of a million deliveries. Now, it can expand its operations and extend its dominance.
And a Few More Headlines:
- eVTOL manufacturer Lilium began assembly of the first of seven fuselages for the aircraft it will use to obtain type certification.
- Honeywell and the U.S. Department of Energy are developing hydrogen fuel storage for long-range drones.
- The FAA accepted Universal Hydrogen’s supplemental type certificate bid to convert ATR 72 regional airliners.
- Volatus Infrastructure and Energy Solutions launched a Series A investment campaign headed by Silicon Prairie.
- Japanese eVTOL maker SkyDrive received a preorder for up to 50 aircraft from a Korean aircraft leaser.
I’m tying this feature to the news that Land Rotor is now partnered with eVTOL dealership (yes, like a car dealership) Aeroauto in an agreement worth up to $700 million. The company has a pretty neat looking personal aircraft that is designed to hover above city streets or soar over skyscrapers. However, I think its path to market is even more interesting.
Land Rotor is betting on a very unique idea: the Drone Ride. The concept is simple—at amusement parks around the world, the company will tether its eVTOL to the ground inside a building and allow thrill seeking guests to take it for a simulated test ride.
But the thinking behind it, in my opinion, is borderline genius. Not only does the Drone Ride help familiarize the general public with a novel (and in its view, potentially dangerous) aircraft type. It also allows Land Rotor to essentially crowdsource testing and development: Each ride will give the company data on performance and the health of the aircraft’s components. And because this is all being done in a controlled environment, it avoids the risk regulators seek to avoid with strict regulations around testing. However, that testing won’t count toward FAA certification.
I know, this sounds a little out there, but Land Rotor is very serious about the concept. The company is installing the first drone ride in Orlando, sandwiched between Universal Studios and SeaWorld. Eventually, it expects to have attractions installed worldwide before it begins selling to the commercial market.
Mark Your Calendars
Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. Here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:
- DroneX 2023—September 26-27 in London
- World Aviation Festival—September 26-28 in Lisbon, Portugal
- Airtaxi World Congress—October 2-5 in San Francisco
- UP.Summit—October 4-6 in Dallas
- FAI World Drone Racing Championship—October 6-9 near Seoul, South Korea
- Intergeo 2023—October 10-12 in Berlin
- Dronitaly—October 11-13 in Bologna, Italy
- World’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Conference—November 12-14 in Jerusalem
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