Joby's first production eVTOL air taxi is cleared to fly
The first production prototype has rolled off Joby Aviation's production line in Marina, California, and the FAA has cleared it to begin flight tests with a special airworthiness certificate. It's likely to be the first eVTOL delivered to a customer.
With upwards of US$2 billion in funding, more than a decade's worth of development and an impressive number of high-speed, long-distance, full-transition test flights behind it, Joby remains the leader in the race to commercial electric air taxi services.
Its S4 aircraft is a five-seat beauty that can take off and land vertically using six large propellers distributed along its wings and V-tail. It then transitions to efficient cruise flight by tilting all its props forward, and can fly more than 150 miles (240 km) at speeds over 200 mph (322 km/h).
Vastly quieter than helicopters, eVTOLs are also projected to be much cheaper as well as having zero emissions. It's hoped that once they're in full commercial service, they'll democratize vertical commuting, being produced in large numbers and offering a fast, cheap way to get across town and between towns over the top of traffic.
First, they'll need FAA type certification. And to be clear, that's not what's just been announced. A special airworthiness certificate is simply a clearance to begin limited flight testing in a single aircraft. Full type certification is still slated for sometime in 2024, and entry into service for 2025, but this could take significantly longer, since in order to begin commercial operations, these eVTOLs need to prove a similar level of safety to that of commercial airliners.
This prototype is destined for the US Air Force, where upon delivery in 2024 at Edwards Air Force Base, it's likely to become the first eVTOL ever delivered to a customer. The Air Force has contributed "up to US$131 million" to Joby's development program through its Agility Prime program, which seeks to accelerate development of these futuristic aircraft, both for potential military uses and to develop America's soverign capability in an emerging technology area that many hope will change the way our cities work.
The pilot production line in Marina has been set up with the assistance of Toyota, Joby's largest external shareholder to the tune of a $400-million investment. Aircraft have never been manufactured at the kind of scale projected for these air taxis, and Toyota is contributing its mass serial production expertise from the automotive industry to the project.
Manufactured "in accordance with a released design and built according to a complete implementation of a quality management system," the prototype will soon begin flight tests. We're not on the home stretch yet, but eVTOL companies continue to make steady progress. Check out a video below.
Source: Joby Aviation