Boeing’s autonomous air taxi prototype completes first test flight

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Boeing has successfully completed the first test flight of its autonomous passenger air vehicle prototype in Manassas, Virginia.

Boeing Next, the development group that leads the company’s urban air mobility efforts, used Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to design and develop the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

The passenger air vehicle (PAV) prototype completed a controlled takeoff, hover and landing during the flight, which tested the vehicle’s autonomous functions and ground control systems.

Future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. This transition phase is typically the most significant engineering challenge for any high-speed VTOL aircraft.

Engineers will also examine and develop the safety and reliability of on-demand autonomous air transportation.

Boeing’s chief technology officer Greg Hyslop said, “In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype.

Boeing Next was launched last year at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK. The program has also partnered with artificial intelligence company SparkCognition to develop unmanned traffic management systems.

The PAV prototype is powered by an electric propulsion system with a range of up to 50 miles (80.47km). It measures 30ft (9m) long and is 28ft (8.5m) wide with an airframe that integrates propulsion and wing systems to achieve efficient hover and forward flight.

“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” said John Langford, president and chief executive officer of Aurora Flight Sciences. “Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”

Boeing described the test flight as a significant milestone for the company. In addition to the PAV, the Boeing NeXt portfolio includes an unmanned fully electric cargo air vehicle (CAV) designed to transport up to 500 lbs (227kg ).

The CAV completed its first indoor flight last year and outdoor flight testing is planned to begin later this year.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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