Big news out of Manassas, Virginia may mean that a future with flying cars (promised in decades of science fiction films) may be closer than ever. Boeing officials say the first test flight of its innovative unmanned, electric, vertical takeoff, flying passenger vehicle is now in the books. The prototype aircraft is designed to “make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”
Boeing officials say that the first test flight of its groundbreaking autonomous passenger air vehicle (PAV) prototype has completed its first test flight “successfully.” The inaugural flight reportedly took place over the the span of less than a minute on Tuesday.
The short test flight tested the aircraft’s “autonomous functions and ground control systems” and included a controlled takeoff and landing along with a brief hover over the tarmac. Boeing says the future flights will soon test the PAV’s wing-borne flight, as well as transitioning between vertical and forward-flight.
“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said in a statement announcing the successful test. “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 is the brainchild of newly-acquired Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences. The electric-powered aircraft is designed to operate as a sort of unmanned flying taxi with the ability to serve densely packed urban environments. The PAV is expected to have a range of only about 50 miles, but its small size and ability to hover as well as take off and land vertically make it ideal for crowded metropolitan areas.
“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” said John Langford, the president and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences. “Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”
Although the successful test flight marks a milestone for Aurora Flight Sciences and Boeing’s NeXt project, the competition isn’t exactly sitting idle. Airbus has been busy with its own autonomous flying vehicle for years predating the start of Boeing’s PAV project. In 2017, Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) said the arrival of single-passenger drone taxis was perhaps only months away.
Still, Boeing officials seem to believe that the U.S. aviation giant has the inside track when it comes to producing a viable, safe and widely used autonomous flying passenger vehicle.
“Boeing was there when the aviation industry was born and in our second century, we will unlock the potential of the urban air mobility market,” Boeing NeXt VP and GM Steve Nordlund explained. “From building air vehicles to airspace integration, we will usher in a future of safe, low-stress mobility in cities and regions around the world.”