How Will The Joby Mishap Affect The Company’s Certification Timeline?

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There’s nothing like an accident to seriously challenge the development program of any new aircraft. Piled on top of severe skepticism for all manner of electronically powered unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the crash of California-based Joby Aviation’s prototype adds exponential attention to the cause of the mishap. Is that fair? Or is this the equivalent of pooh-poohing the invention of the wheel because the first examples yielded a bumpy ride?

Joby would contend that its performance targets, announced in late January, were ambitious, to say the least. They included a top speed of around 175 knots and a cruise altitude of at least 10,000 feet. Joby announced in January it had achieved its goal for speed—and the altitude target was bull’s-eyed on Feb. 1.

But two weeks later, after achieving speeds of 244 knots, the aircraft crashed (as it was unmanned, there were, of course, no injuries). To date, Joby has maintained it is not at liberty to discuss the accident any further, and the NTSB final report is 12 to 18 months away. With type certification scheduled for next year and entry-into-service pegged for 2024, how will the accident affect that timetable?

Walter Desrosier, vice president of engineering and maintenance at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), said, “For any accident, we need to know if it was due to a potential design issue, an operational issue or something else. Once the contributing causes are determined, then we move on to how to address them. Does it come back to changing the design? If so, will certification requirements need to be revisited in terms of how the updated design meets requirements?”

Joby has what is described as a second, identical prototype and is preparing to resume test flights.

Desrosier continued, “Test flights by definition are higher risk as they involve brand new design. And with eVTOLs, it’s a whole new type of aircraft, so there are a lot of unknowns.”

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I see this (crash) as merely a splash of reality in the faces of pom-pons-wielding, wealthy cheerleaders.

    In engineering, optimism and pessimism always must yield to realism.

    Progress will be made; HAS been made. But “how much” and “how soon” are reasonable questions. Charles Dickens phrased it eloquently: “Great Expectations.”

  2. “the aircraft crashed (as it was unmanned, there were, of course, no injuries)”

    Unintentionally adds emphasis to one of my concerns with the entire industry biz dream of thousands of these things operating almost exclusively over population concentrations, with no plan for pre/post-flight safety checks of vehicle and environmental conditions…stuff dropping out of the sky is not necessarily “victimless”.

  3. Would you fly in a design that had not crashed at least once? Even in today’s digitally-simulated test environment, a new design that met such ambitious performance goals without at least one significant real-world “test-card excursion” makes me wonder if it wasn’t tested enough.

    • Honestly, in todays world of a century of R&D in aviation, computers capable of fantastic FEA analysis, and superior CNC manufacturing techniques; I DO NOT expect an in flight structural breakup. That shows that the design team is seriously lacking talent.

    • >>Would you fly in a design that had not crashed at least once?

      Millions of people have. The Boeing 777 was in commercial service all around the world for the better part of twenty years before one was lost (with no fatalities) when it came up short at Heathrow.

  4. If it’s going to happen, a crash in the test phase is when you want it to happen. Doesn’t necessarily mean the issue can’t be overcome. That’s what testing is for. I agree the accident occurring in drone mode is an additional concern. I wonder if the crash surprised the computer modellers on the staff? And given the huge amounts of cash ventures like this seem to be able to ingest, the “Not at liberty to discuss…” excuse would be a concern if I was an investor. I suspect if I had $100 for every successful aircraft that had a crash while in the prototype stage, I still wouldn’t be able to sit at the head table in the Joby corporate cafeteria.