NASA Flight Tests of Futuristic ‘Air Taxi’ Are Finally Underway

NASA Flight Tests of Futuristic ‘Air Taxi’ Are Finally Underway
Joby's eVTOL aircraft at the company's Electric Flight Base, located near Big Sur, California. (Image: NASA)

The first official tests of Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle have begun. NASA is leading these tests, which it’s doing to foster the development of similarly advanced aircraft.

This marks the first inclusion of an eVTOL vehicle in NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. By partaking in the developmental flight tests of a commercial aircraft, NASA hopes to “advance airspace mobility” in the United States, and “help integrate air taxis, drones and other inventive new vehicles into the national airspace,” according to an agency press kit.

Tests of Joby Aviation’s eVTOL will run from August 30 to September 10, and they’re happening at the company’s Electric Flight Base near Big Sur, California. Joby Aviation, a California-based aerospace company, is aiming to launch its air taxi service in 2024, but it must meet the requirements set out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These tests, with NASA helping out, are a step in that direction.

“NASA’s AAM National Campaign is critical to driving scientific understanding and public acceptance of eVTOL aircraft,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby Aviation, said in a NASA statement. “We’re incredibly proud to have worked closely with NASA on electric flight over the past 10 years and to be the first eVTOL company to fly as part of the campaign.”

Six electric motors allow for the silky smooth, zero-emission vertical take-off and landing. The eVTOL can reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour, and travel in excess of 240 km. The aircraft can carry a lone pilot and up to four passengers. Joby Aviation is touting itself as the “Uber of the Air,” and it’s saying so with a straight face, as Gizmodo reported last month. The company wants its customers to book flights with an app, and pay fees comparable to land vehicles.

For the inaugural flight tests, NASA will monitor the performance of the aircraft, collect acoustic data, and see how it responds to the pilot. For the acoustic tests, the “team will deploy the mobile acoustics facility and construct an array of more than 50 microphones to measure the acoustic profile of Joby’s aircraft in different phases of flight,” according to NASA.

The tests are meant to expose potential gaps or deficiencies in the concept, and also provide data for future models and simulations of advanced flight concepts. Ultimately, NASA and its partners are looking to pass regulatory requirements and incorporate the aircraft into the FAA’s National Airspace System.

Should all go well, these developmental flight tests will be followed by the first set of campaign tests, called NC-1, which are scheduled to begin next year. These tests will involve more complicated flight scenarios for the eVTOL.