Aircraft

Joby crashes one of its two eVTOL prototypes during high-speed testing

Joby crashes one of its two eV...
Joby has advised shareholders that it's crashed one of its prototype eVTOL aircraft while intentionally pushing the limits – flight data appears to show the S4 reaching speeds up to 270 mph, well over the S4's rated maximum of 200 mph
Joby has advised shareholders that it's crashed one of its prototype eVTOL aircraft while intentionally pushing the limits – flight data appears to show the S4 reaching speeds up to 270 mph, well over the S4's rated maximum of 200 mph
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Joby aviation has rolled out its second pre-production eVTOL prototype to accelerate its certification program
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Joby aviation has rolled out its second pre-production eVTOL prototype to accelerate its certification program

Joby Aviation has announced an accident during flight testing of its market-leading eVTOL aircraft prototype. Flight tracking data appears to show the aircraft was being pushed over 270 mph (435 km/h), well beyond its advertised top speed of 200 mph (322 km/h).

The crash was disclosed in an SEC Form 8-K filing – a report of unscheduled events that could be of importance to shareholders. The relevant section reads as follows:

"On February 16, 2022, Joby Aviation, Inc. a Delaware corporation (the “Company”) announced that earlier today one of its remotely piloted, experimental prototype aircraft was involved in an accident during flight testing at our remote flight test base in California. There were no injuries. Safety is a core value for Joby, which is why we have been expanding our flight envelope with a remote pilot and in an uninhabited area, especially as we operate outside expected operating conditions.

Experimental flight test programs are intentionally designed to determine the limits of aircraft performance, and accidents are unfortunately a possibility. We will be supporting the relevant authorities in investigating the accident thoroughly."

While the company has yet to comment further on the incident, flight tracking data may flesh out the story a little. It seems a Joby prototype, tail number N542AJ, was performing a test flight near Schoonover Airfield, a US Army facility near Fort Hunter Liggett, southeast of Monterey.

According to the flight tracking data, the remotely-piloted aircraft seems to have been pushing way past the expected limits of its performance. At times, the tracking data shows the aircraft banking into turns at around 240 knots (270 mph, 435 km/h).

Sources within the industry tell us this would be consistent with FAA certification test procedures, which require aircraft to fly at around 1.3 times their normal "never exceed" speed.

N542AJ was one of two pre-production prototypes issued FAA Special Airworthiness Certification and US Air Force Airworthiness Approval. It's the older of the two – not the brand new one rolled out in early January this year. So assuming it's a complete write-off, it's certainly an expensive setback for Joby – but it happened way outside the expected flight envelope, it may reveal valuable information on which systems begin to fail under extreme loading, nobody was hurt and, while it'll slow down Joby's certification program, it certainly won't bring it to a complete halt.

What will this mean for the eVTOL market? Until this point, Joby has been well ahead of the pack. This is one of thousands of flight tests the company has completed while many competitors are still just getting started. Joby has already set the bar for both the longest and the fastest eVTOL flights – and indeed, the flight data here would seem to suggest that the airframe has a surprising amount of speed left in it, if the parts that failed can be improved.

So there's every chance this incident is more analogous to SpaceX's many spectacular "rapid unscheduled disassemblies" than, for example, the crashes that caused de Havilland to lose to Boeing in the fight for the early jet airliner market. Indeed, if every manufacturer has to put its certification prototypes through these high-speed tests, this may not be the last time we see this kind of crash. Time will tell.

We've reached out to Joby for further comment, but we may not hear much more until the official investigation is complete.

Source: SEC

26 comments
26 comments
HokenPoke
435 km/h It just shows you how much power this thing has going... Well done for testing the machine beyond it's limits, speeds of over 300 km/h is what mainstream helicopters can only dream of, that it got to 435km/h just shows you how well it was built !
Steven Clarkson
So it did sharp banking at 435 km/h, why what did you expect ! Amazing that it held up as well as it did and that with the older version machine !

This just proves the robustness of the machine even more. Kudos for JOBY to go beyond the operational limits of the craft and do real life tests beyond the craft's limits.

As a bonus NOW the components can be tweaked and bettered because they should have the telemetry and aftermath of the components in hand. As i say its a bonus but certainly will give them a technological advantage over others as even though the craft flies superbly and reliably beyond it's 322km/h certified envelope it can now be made even better.
Towerman
I cannot see why investors should be shaken at all, the craft outperformed it's limits, investor relations will now be even more stronger than ever before. Well Done JOBY.
David F
Explore the flight envelope and you find the vehicle's limits. Crashes happen during development. Learn from it, and make the vehicle safer.
Babaghan
Joby's competitors will push the boundaries of their aircraft as well and they will also have crashes. I wouldn't want to fly on any aircraft where the company could say, "We really don't know when or where our plane will break up".
Arcticshade
Exactly Babaghan its part of commisioning in a new flagship so to speak, besides the craft spectaculary went beyond what it was built to do.
paul314
You always want to test well past the envelope where you think the aircraft is going to operate. Because something unplanned is always going to happen eventually, and you would seriously prefer that aircraft and passengers survive. For example, modern airliners aren't intended to go anywhere near supersonic airspeeds, but they've occasionally survived just that, and the airframe returned to service.
dan
you never crash on purpose an aircraft. that is bad news for all eVTOL start-ups, therefore, I do not understand all these positive comments here! a crash is a crash. and that is bad. of course, most eVTOLs are not safe enough/certified for manned flights yet - so no lives lost. Anyway, flight envelopes need to be tested, even beyond legal limits, right, but it is done step by step in a safe way without PR-desaster.
BlueOak
Video of the actual flight?
DavidB
@dan, you’ve entirely missed the point of all the positive comments. Testing and identifying limits is a critical part of development and certification. The crash isn’t a “PR-desaster[sic]” at all—it’s exactly what you have to do if you want to know at what point the craft would fail.

(It’s “PR disaster,” by the way.)
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