Boeing Autonomous eVTOL Makes First Flight

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Image: Boeing

Image: Boeing

Boeing’s autonomous air taxi prototype successfully completed its first test flight on Tuesday in Manassas, Virginia. According to the company, the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft—which it calls a passenger air vehicle (PAV)—completed a controlled takeoff, hover and landing. The brief flight was designed to test the PAV’s autonomous functions and ground control systems.

"In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype," said Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop. "Boeing's expertise and innovation have been critical in developing aviation as the world's safest and most efficient form of transportation, and we will continue to lead with a safe, innovative and responsible approach to new mobility solutions."

The PAV was designed and developed by Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences as part of Boeing NeXt, a division of the company that focuses on urban air mobility research and development. Boeing says that future PAV flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, and the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. The PAV prototype is 30 feet long with a 28-foot wingspan and has a range of approximately 43 NM (80.47 kilometers).

Boeing’s project joins other autonomous air taxi prototypes making test flights including Airbus’ Vahana, which flew for the first time in January 2018, and the Volocopter 2X. The 2x completed its first public unmanned test flight in Dubai in September 2017 and the company is currently preparing for an urban flight test program in Singapore. Also on the list is the Ehang 184, which has been carrying passengers on manned test flights for at least a year.

Comments (8)

I find it interesting that designers like Boeing and E-Hang, among others, don't seem to be very concerned about having unprotected propellers mounted about shin-high to a human. When they are spinning, they are invisible to people who could be severely injured or killed by accidentally walking into one of the props. Since these vehicles are intended to operate without an experienced pilot, the passengers are on their own while moving around the props; passengers who, most likely, have no knowledege or experience with spinning blades. How many accidents will happen when these eVTOL craft go into widespread use before the FAA or NTSB get involved? As goofy as the Volocopter may look with its overhead rack of motors and props, they are at least out of harm's way with regard to hapless passengers.

Posted by: John McNamee | January 23, 2019 11:36 AM    Report this comment

> How many accidents will happen when these eVTOL craft go into widespread use before the FAA or NTSB get involved?

My car has a number of sensors around its exterior that provide a proximity warning for moving and stationary objects. The light on my back porch illuminates whenever anything larger than a cat moves within 30 feet of it. I don't think it should be too hard to install similar sensors on one of these aircraft tied to the motor control system preventing prop rotation when people are near.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 23, 2019 12:26 PM    Report this comment

I assume that autonomous WON'T fly in IMC (since they don't answer to ATC).
VFR only, right?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 23, 2019 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Seems we need a sensor to tell us to wipe our nose anymore, not a good solution. As we know sensors never fail. I still think spinning props that low, un-shielded and black (nearly invisible) will be an accident waiting to happen. Attorneys are lining up. There is always that late guy who runs up to the aircraft just at lift off to get aboard, nice knowing you.

Posted by: Roger Mullins | January 23, 2019 8:19 PM    Report this comment

A new revenue stream for personal injury lawyers. When these things start going "crazy" and hurting or killing people ... this crazy idea will end.

Since it's a drone ... is it limited to 400' and "away" from airports?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 24, 2019 8:39 AM    Report this comment

What amazes me in this quest for urban/inner city air transportation via autonomously operated electric, aerial taxis, is the marketing mantra these vehicles are actually going to provide "green" transportation while allowing for greater mobility. For whom? Realistically, for how many?

If Boeing builds 100, four place, electric, multi-engine , propeller driven, battery operated, pilot-less drones, and all were in the air at the same time, filled with 3 day, perfectly manicured bearded, sport-coat, blue-jean, wearing 40 something men, escorting equally well-groomed, stiletto heeled, club-wear fashion model women...they would have "relieved" the inner city transportation problem by a mere 400 people.

For the benefit of these 400, perfectly fit, iPhone, iPad, I have to be so well connected, business wunder-kinder, ATC will have to keep tabs on 100 aerial conveyances from running into a single 600,000lb wide-body filled with 400 "average" people sitting shoulder to shoulder in cattle-car seating.

Maybe, just maybe, Boeing is actually developing a 400 passenger, wide-body autonomously guided, "green" machine...and these 2-4 place Uber flying machines are the shapes of things to come!

Imagine the prop noise coming off a ba-zillion propellers, openly spinning at 15,000RPM, being powered by a multitude of "green" electric motors, motivated by 100,000+ lbs of super-heated Li-Po batteries, after being re-fueled before every flight at a charging station at the base of a nuclear powered electric plant. Add to that, the potential carnage of late passengers, or the lack of TSA personnel and their over-sight because of now regular government shutdowns, and the destruction of so many pigeons inadvertently flying through all of these carbon fiber, spinning looks like the makings of the next round of bloody video games!

Oh, I, wind, power-lines, buildings, turbulence, trees, antennas adding their influences on the above. Wow, what a future for a urban transportation.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | January 24, 2019 9:10 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Jim Holdeman. All these fantastic promises that are being made for autonomous vehicles, either for delivery of cargo or passengers, never acknowledge the noise that these things make. Even small UAVs emit an annoying drone. A heavily loaded UAV will be quite the noisemaker. The videos for these proposed aircraft usually don't have audio, for good reason. If you don't think noise is a problem, talk to the poor people who try to keep Santa Monica airport open.

Posted by: James Freal | January 24, 2019 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Building unmanned people moving urban drones has become the latest aviation cause celebre. At the presentation by Verdego Aero I attended last year, Erik Lindberg's exuberance was infectious. And he isn't the only one. These people have become mesmerized by this idea but -- as Jim says -- it isn't going to put a dent in the need for people moving. I think they've spent too much time consuming agricultural products in Colorado?

Fifty years ago, Jim Bede was gonna put a BD-5 A/B in every garage. And before that ... a flying car was going to wisk us to work above the din of traffic. Both ideas still persist but haven't gone anywhere. The people moving drone might catch on a little more but won't be much more than a pimple on the face of mass transportation by air.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 24, 2019 11:27 AM    Report this comment

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