Joby is now test-flying its eVTOL air taxis with pilots on board
In a huge moment for the company – and the electric VTOL industry at large – Joby Aviation has officially started manned flight testing of its S4 eVTOL air taxi. Announcing the milestone with a video, Joby leads team USA in the race to certification.
Having flown thousands upon thousands of miles under remote control since full-scale testing began in 2017 – including record-setting test flights for eVTOL speed and distance – Joby is now letting humans on board. Four test pilots have now started test flights in this bleeding-edge aircraft.
The achievement is a pioneering step. Yes, there have been many piloted eVTOL flights over the years, going back to Volocopter's famous flying yoga ball moment all the way back in 2011. But it's one thing to strap yourself into a big drone and go take a risk, and another altogether for a large company seeking FAA certification to risk the lives of employees in a radically new class of aircraft.
And yes, some of the other leading contenders in commercial advanced air mobility have been flying manned missions for some time – notably Volocopter, eHang and Beta Technologies. But both Volocopter and eHang are taking people in simple multicopter-style aircraft, orders of magnitude less complex than Joby's vectored thrust aircraft, with its six large tilting propellers and cruise-capable wings.
And Beta might have its own winged aircraft in the Alia – a somewhat simpler lift & cruise design with separate vertical and horizontal propulsion systems – but its manned flights thus far have all been done without the VTOL system enabled, taking off and landing conventionally using runways. So Joby's decision to move into manned flights is a big deal, and a historic moment.
The test flights were brief, close to the ground and kept within a pretty tight envelope to begin with, including "free thrustborne hovers and forward transitions to semi-thrustborne flight." So not yet a full transition to winged cruise mode, but the aircraft has certainly proven itself very capable in that regard.
“Having helped design and test flight controls for a wide variety of aircraft, including all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nothing compares to the simplicity and grace of the Joby aircraft,” said Joby Chief Test Pilot James “Buddy” Denham. “After completing more than 400 vertical take-offs and landings from the ground, it is a privilege to sit in the cockpit of our aircraft and experience first-hand the ease and intuitive nature of the design that the Joby team has developed.”
Easy and intuitive is no understatement if my experience in the Lilium Jet simulator is any indication. These eVTOLs are fully fly-by-wire, using advanced flight control systems and a raft of sensors to distribute power between their many propellers and manage things like the transitions between VTOL and cruise flight modes. But the end result could not be more user-friendly; they're a piece of cake to fly, much easier than airplanes, let alone helicopters.
Congratulations to the Joby team! Check out the video below.
Source: Joby Aviation