Kitty Hawk’s Newest VTOL Almost Silent


Kitty Hawk’s latest entry into the incipient urban mobility market is missing something important and it might be its biggest selling point. The new Heaviside (named for Oliver Heaviside, a controversial early 20th century physicist and electrical engineer) is virtually silent in flight with a noise level of about 38 decibels at 1,500 feet. Helicopters are typically at about 60 decibels at that altitude. Kitty Hawk, which is funded by Google’s Larry Page, has so far only flown the Heaviside remotely but it seems capable.

The electric VTOL has eight tilting motors, three on each wing and one on each canard, and can take off and land vertically and hover. The motors are also part of the flight control system and help control all three axes by varying speed and angle. The wing is forward swept and mounted high on the fuselage. Speculation among tech gurus is that this design is possibly the basis for Kitty Hawk’s urban mobility vehicle and the release of a video suggests the program is relatively mature.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I think most of these things are a joke ! The battery density is still a long ways off to make them truly viable. Most of them look like some software engineers were playing around with a drone and thought all they needed to do was just scale it up. Few of the designs have enough real redundancy for carrying passengers. Most of them look like they could be taken out with a well aimed basketball.

  2. Excellent, expensive RC model. Well flown, cool design, and is a proof-of-concept for the flight characteristics, noise reduction efforts.

    Most of that present performance will be gone with the need for redundancy to fly reliably in urban congestion while meeting current certification standards for passenger carry capabilities. By the time, and billions of dollars spent to gain certification, there will be plenty of battery power for a poor flying but quiet, winged thing in its attempts navigate the average downtown city environment, deal with the weather, not run into another flying machine old or new, and please the ever escalating passenger’s and FAA comfort levels.

    Another cool, Jetson-like concept that will work in an open field, surrounded by beautiful hills, being flown by professional RC pilots on a windless, CAVU day, standing on an elevated platform. But not really practical for downtown NYC no matter the battery capability or low noise signature is.

  3. Being very familiar with some similar technology, I cannot comprehend why Jim and Paul speak so authoritatively against these aircraft? Billions of dollars? Inadequate real redundancy? Basketball vulnerability? What a load of nonsense.
    Or perhaps these guys are involved with something similar that is being poorly executed and are assuming no-one else can do a better job?

    • Rules are rules. This is a multi-engine IFR VTOL aircraft.
      The “technology” here only adds to that complexity, not reduce it.

  4. Cameron…by the time a successful electric, “green” VTOL is developed, collectively, there will be billions of dollars spent. I am convinced none of them will be close to a 1/4 scale, proof of concept model as demonstrated by Kittyhawk in the video.

    Most technology regarding prototype work specifically in aviation rarely has much similarity to the finished product. Why? Because certification of anything that will be termed disruptive technology may burst onto the scene with glowing optimism regarding all its virtues…but cannot bypass the FAA certification standards. Those standards are purposefully designed to have enough safety via redundancy built in to make sure any new design, disruptive or not, to be evolutionary proven before someone within the FAA will sign off.

    Its one thing to deliver food, medicine, even an organ or two with a scaled up drone within line of sight criteria traveling a relatively short distance. But when it comes to lifting several passengers on a windy, cold, Black Friday afternoon at the Daly Plaza in Chicago wisking them off to the Magnificent Mile to bypass all of the masses of Chicago shoppers , under O’Hare and Midway Class B airspace, it will take additional billions of dollars to have a VTOL infrastructure designed and proven already in place to accept Kittyhawk with swept forward wing and silent but plentiful motors.

    If it is tough or impossible today to wedge a two place R44 into a downtown scenario, it will be far worse to have a VTOL vehicle two to three times the size of an R44 to do likewise. Buildings, power-lines, elevated trains, light poles, buses, taxis, and roof mounted air conditioners in a raw environment such as downtown Chicago with all the lake effect weather, and saturated airspace will not easily nor cheaply be re-designed for VTOL vehicle insertion.

    Mayer Daly managed to get Meigs Field bulldozed at 3AM because his wife wanted a park instead of a functioning airport asset Meigs once was. This kind of aviation PC is another gauntlet the VTOL crowd will have to expensively wade through….city by crowded city, whose politicians always have their collective hands out. That, like the FAA, has not and is not easily changed.

    One may be a wizard in disruptive technology, be far ahead of someone like me in mechanical/software design already holding on to the secret sauce of the best battery technology, artificial intelligence, and 3D printed Kittyhawks of the future, today. But all of this has not solved the problem of getting it through the FAA certification process…who will probably suggest it does pass the basketball test…among other things.

    Authoritative? Naw…just the reality of the above. When the city, state, and national political system, the hearts of the non-aviation savvy public, and the FAA certification system change to handle the technology of today and the future regarding urban flight, VTOL or otherwise, with an infrastructure properly set up to deal with all of this…then I might change my “authoritative” position. Until then, I am not optimistic.

  5. Just to be clear, redundancy is NOT a design objective.
    Reliability IS a design objective.

    Redundancy is just one means of attempting to provide reliability. But reliance upon redundancy can have a serious flaw: common-mode failures often cause many/most/all identical redundant items to fail in unison.