Boeing has flown a prototype autonomous passenger air vehicle, just one year after it was a conceptual design.
The company’s NeXt branch and Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary designed and developed the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and will continue testing it to advance safety and reliability.
The prototype completed a controlled take-off, hover and landing during the flight in in Manassas, Virginia, which tested the vehicle's autonomous functions and ground control systems. Future flights will test forward wing-borne flight, as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. This transition phase is typically the most significant engineering challenge for any high-speed VTOL aircraft.
"In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype," said Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop.
The prototype has a reported range of up to 80.47km. It measures 9.14m long and 8.53m wide, with an advanced airframe that “integrates the propulsion and wing systems to achieve efficient hover and forward flight”.
"This is what revolution looks like, and it's because of autonomy," said John Langford, chief executive officer of Aurora Flight Sciences. "Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible."
"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," said Steve Nordlund, vice-president and general manager of Boeing NeXt. "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."
Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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