Vahana Flies, Joby Attracts Capital
Airbus has flown its A3 Vahana autonomous electric VTOL aircraft, completing two short test flights in Oregon last Wednesday and Thursday. The aircraft is the test article for what Airbus hopes will become fleets of pilotless tiltrotors carrying passengers and cargo from point to point. It wants to have a working prototype by 2020 and project leader Zach Lovering noted how far the initiative has come in a comparatively short time. “In just under two years, Vahana took a concept sketch on a napkin and built a full-scale, self-piloted aircraft that has successfully completed its first flight,” he said. Meanwhile, Joby, a much more grassroots company that hopes to compete with Airbus in that market, picked up some substantial backing this week.
Joby founder JoeBen Bevirt invited two Bloomberg reporters to his secret airfield somewhere on the California coast to see (but not describe in detail or photograph) his entry in the VTOL market. He did tell Ashley Vance and Brad Stone the aircraft was flown by a test pilot for 15 minutes, covering 15 miles and taking off vertically. The writers also reported he told them the aircraft will “fly at twice the speed of a helicopter” which suggests a tiltrotor or hybrid thrust design. The reporters said the aircraft is “exotic looking” and has “numerous propellers.” Whatever it is, it’s attracted some high-profile support worth about $100 million. The company says Intel Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures and Tesla/SpaceX backers Capricorn Investment Group have all thrown money into the venture capital pot to keep the project going.