NASA Is Testing an eVTOL Air Taxi for the First Time

To transform the future of aerospace.
Brad Bergan
Joby's eVTOL aircraft at the firm's Electric Flight Base, in California.NASA / Joby Aviation

The future of flight is closer than ever.

NASA is testing an all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft developed by Joby Aviation, in a first for the agency, according to a blog post on its official website.

Note well: This is the beginning of an aerospace revolution.

NASA's test of Joby's eVTOL to set norms for future tests

The new eVTOL tests are part of NASA's Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign, which aims to find and analyze gaps in present-day regulations and policies of the Federal Aviation Administration, in a bid to integrate AAM aircraft into the National Airspace System. In other words, several events are overlapping, from engineering upgrades of a nascent flight system to a logistical update for the next generation of public and private aerospace ventures, including eVTOL air taxis. Understandably, this campaign will continue at several locations for multiple years, but the current tests of Joby's aircraft will conclude on Friday, Sept. 10, at Joby's Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California. "The National Campaign Developmental Testing is an important strategic step in NASA's goals to accelerate the AAM industry timeline," said NASA AAM's Mission Integration Manager Davis Hackenberg, in the agency's blog post.

"These testing scenarios will help inform gaps in current standards to benefit the industry's progress of integrating AAM vehicles into the airspace," added Hackenberg. In this initial round of testing, NASA will gather data from Joby's eVTOL, which is designed for commercial passenger service. And this data will enable the AAM National Campaign for the first set of further tests with more complex flight scenarios with additional industry vehicles, to commence in 2022. While the Joby eVTOL executes its test scenarios, the NASA team will focus on an analysis of the vehicle's motion, sound profile, and how it communicates with controllers, deploying an array of more than 50 microphones, in addition to a mobile acoustics facility, to model the aircraft's acoustic profile in varying flight phases.

NASA's AAM campaign will catalyze eVTOL aircraft

"NASA's AAM National Campaign is critical to driving scientific understanding and public acceptance of eVTOL aircraft," said CEO and Founder JoeBen Bevirt of Joby Aviation, in the blog post. "We're incredibly proud to have worked closely with NASA on electric flight over the past 10 years and to be the first eVTOL company to fly as part of the campaign." Unsurprisingly, this test will form as a baseline-forming endeavor on factors like range and other protocols, for future participants in the NC-1 campaign. Safety and airworthiness, too, will be crucial factors in NASA's continued tests.

Once AAM is fully incorporated into national airspace standards, NASA expects next-gen eVTOL aircraft to become an affordable system for cargo and passenger transportation, in addition to other functions in service of the public interest. Possible shipping might include package delivery drones, medical transport vehicles, and, of course, air taxis. The significance of the agency's tests, and the forthcoming campaign to normalize AAM, demands a step back to consider the big picture: AAM will play a vital role in transforming the way we think about transportation, serving as a community catalyst for a new normal of air traffic, and aerospace innovation, both in the U.S. and abroad.

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