Boeing announced today that it had completed the first successful test flight of an autonomous, short-range air vehicle that could pave the way for widespread use of urban air taxis in the not-too-distant future.
Boeing NeXt’s Air Taxi Test Flight
Boeing NeXt, which heads up the development of urban air vehicles for the aerospace company, successfully tested its prototype passenger air vehicle (PAV) in Manassas, Virginia.
The test flight saw the PAV complete an autonomous takeoff, hover, and landing operation successfully, as well as tested its ground control systems.
"In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype," said Greg Hyslop, the company's Chief Technology Officer. "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."
The company states that future test flights will be scheduled to test the PAV prototypes forward, wing-borne flight operations. Then, the company will move on to the most significant challenge for electric vertical takeoff and landing air vehicles, the transition from vertical takeoff to wing-borne flight.
The Air Taxi at a Glance
The PAV prototype uses an electric propulsion system like other prototype PAVs in the industry, such as Bell Helicopter’s Nexus air taxi concept shown off at CES 2019 in Las Vegas.
The prototype air taxi is designed for completely autonomous operations from takeoff, wing-borne flight, hovering, and landing, with a maximum range around 50 miles. At 30 feet long and 28 feet wide, the prototypes airframe design integrates both the propulsion and wing system for improved efficiency.
"This is what revolution looks like, and it's because of autonomy," said President and Chief Executive Officer of Aurora Flight Sciences, John Langford. "Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible."
What’s Next for Boeing NeXt?
This isn’t the first unmanned air vehicle that NeXt has been developing. In addition to the passenger air taxi, the NeXt division has also been developing an unmanned cargo air vehicle (CAV)—capable of transporting up to 500 lbs—, and several other mobility platforms.
"Boeing was there when the aviation industry was born and in our second century, we will unlock the potential of the urban air mobility market," said Vice President and General Manager of Boeing NeXt, Steve Nordlund. "From building air vehicles to airspace integration, we will usher in a future of safe, low-stress mobility in cities and regions around the world."
Are Air Taxis the Future of Urban Travel?
Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the United States, is putting a lot of investment behind the development of these air taxi vehicles, which the company sees as the future of urban mobility. According to a report last year in Bloomberg, the company's Chief Executive Officer, Dennis Muilenburg, said that air taxis are going to become a reality very soon. He told Bloomberg that “I think it will happen faster than any of us understand…Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”
Bloomberg further expounds on Muilenburg’s vision as an opportunity to shape the direction of future urban infrastructure: “Fleets of self-piloted craft could be hovering above city streets and dodging skyscrapers within a decade, [Muilenburg] said. Propelling these advances are a flood of investment, rapid gains in autonomy, and growing consumer frustration with bumper-to-bumper traffic.”