Joby’s Preproduction Prototype Flies In ‘Pilot-Onboard’ Mode


Joby Aviation announced today it has flown its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) preproduction prototype with pilots manipulating the controls. Before the “pilot-on-board” sorties, all other test flights have taken place under remote control from the ground.

Four pilots took part in the recent round of flights, which involved a range of maneuvers, including vertical thrustborne hovers and transitions to forward semi-thrustborne flight. Joby chief test pilot James “Buddy” Denham said the piloted flights are designed to gather data on pilot-control interfaces and the aircraft’s handling qualities. The flights are also geared toward “supporting the development of the aircraft and laying the groundwork for future ‘for credit’ testing as part of the company’s ongoing certification program with the Federal Aviation Administration,” according to Joby.

The pilot-on-board flights are planned to test multiple maneuvers, including vertical takeoffs, accelerating and transitioning to forward flight, runway centerline tracking and decelerating to a vertical landing on a “representative” landing pad, according to the Joby announcement.  “Evaluation of these mission task elements (MTEs) will support the certification of the Joby aircraft as well as the company’s ongoing work with the Department of Defense,” the company said.

The Joby announcement noted that Denham has a strong background in testing vertical-lift aircraft. He joined the company in 2019 after retiring from Naval Air Systems Command, where he focused on the research, development, test and evaluation of advanced flight controls and flight dynamics for a wide variety of aircraft. Named as an Esteemed Technical Fellow, he headed up research and development of the Unified Control Concept, which Joby described as “a joint U.S. and U.K. project” involving the F-35B STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing) aircraft. As part of his work on the F-35B, Denham helped develop a flight control concept for aircraft carrier landings that “dramatically” increased touchdown precision, lowered pilot workload and increased safety for carrier landings on the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F/G and F-35C aircraft, according to Joby.

Dunham said, “Having helped design and test flight controls for a wide variety of aircraft, including all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nothing compares to the simplicity and grace of the Joby aircraft.”

Watch a 2:33 video of the Joby test flights here.

Mark Phelps
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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  1. Typo check: the penultimate paragraph quotes a name, “Dunham” with a “u”, but everywhere else in the article, the name quoted is “Denham” with an “e”.