Ahead of the planned 2024 due date, Joby Aviation has delivered the first unit of its electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to the U.S. Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base. The company is making the announcement Monday during a special ceremony at the base.
The air taxi marks the first such eVTOLs to enter testing with the Air Force—and it’s believed to be the first such aircraft delivered within the U.S. overall. The unit arrived last week under a cloak of secrecy ahead of the event this morning—and it has already taken to the skies above the desert base. Flight testing will be conducted by both Air Force and Joby personnel at Edwards in the coming months. A second aircraft will join this one in early 2024, according to the company.
It’s the first Joby aircraft built on the company’s Pilot Production Line in Marina, California—-where it began its first conforming production, though it plans to take expanded manufacturing elsewhere in the country.
The eVTOL will be used to both train pilots and ground personnel on the aircraft’s operations and capabilities, which will include logistics and other missions. The testing will be conducted in a purpose-built facility on the base produced by the Air Force for the project.
“We’re proud to join the ranks of revolutionary aircraft that first demonstrated their capabilities at Edwards Air Force Base, including the first American jet fighter, the first supersonic aircraft, and many others that have pushed the boundaries of aviation technology,” said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby. “The longstanding support of the DOD and NASA has been critical to the rapid development of electric aviation and eVTOL aircraft, and demonstrates how successful public-private partnerships can bring new technology to life at speed. Their work will have profound implications for continued American leadership in both commercial and defense aerospace technology.”
The operational experience will come in handy as Joby works quickly towards its planned entry into commercial service that it proposes will begin in 2025.
The delivery marks an important milestone in the agreement between Joby and the Air Force, an engagement that began in 2016 with the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit. Joby gained critical funding as well as access to testing facilities early in its development process.
NASA will also join the partnership under the auspices of it AFWERX program, and the agency will provide NASA pilots, researchers, and key equipment as it develops its own fluency in the advanced air mobility space.
“NASA’s participation in the Joby and AFWERX project will provide our researchers with hands-on experience with a representative eVTOL vehicle, concentrated on how these types of aircraft could fit into the national airspace for everyday use, that will inform NASA’s effort in supporting the entire eVTOL industry,” said NASA research pilot Wayne Ringelberg in a statement. “The research will include a focus on handling qualities evaluation tools, autonomy, and airspace integration, which is all needed research to push the industry forward.”
The Joby air taxi fits neatly into the Agility Prime mission, though it is far from the only AAM manufacturer to participate. Beta Technologies, Jump Aero, and Archer Aviation each have contracts related to AFWERX thus far. But by being the first to show up with a flying eVTOL ready to move forward, Joby takes a key position in the game.
“Agility Prime’s stated objective in 2020 was to work towards an operational capability for transformative vertical lift in the DoD by 2023,” said Colonel Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the Department of the Air Force, in a press release. “The arrival of Joby’s aircraft at Edwards AFB is an important step towards achieving this objective.”
Said Major Phillip Woodhull, director, emerging technologies integrated test force, in the same release: “The delivery of this first eVTOL aircraft is the start of a new chapter in Edwards’ rich aerospace history. This partners private industry with the 412th Test Wing’s world-renowned test management execution. We are excited to agilely test, experiment with, and evaluate this new technology for potential future national defense applications.”