Boeing Begins Test flights of air taxi for uber

Boeing engineers at an airfield in Manassas, Virginia, are testing the autonomous flight of an air taxi Uber aims to make available on its mobile application around 2023 to ferry people between cities and suburbs.

The electric-powered aircraft called the Passenger Air Vehicle is built by engineers at Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, who tested the autonomous flight controls on Tuesday as it took off and hovered briefly. Flights that transition the aircraft from vertical to forward flight will be the next challenge for the team, a task that distributed electric propulsion makes less challenging than past generations of mechanical, gear-driven designs.

Boeing is among the companies seeking to build urban air mobility aircraft that are less noisy and less expensive than helicopters with numerous small, electric-powered propellers. The 30-foot-long by 28-foot wide Passenger Air Vehicle has eight vertical propellers for liftoff and a rotor at its tail to propel forward wing-borne flight with a range of 50 miles. The Uber Elevate partnership includes Boeing and other companies that will provide various services needed to develop an air taxi network, including Bell, which has also designed a prototype air taxi called the Nexus.

Uber has promised flight demonstrations in 2020 of air taxis that would ferry passengers through its Uber Air service. Passengers in Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth will be the first cities where people can book a flight on Uber’s app, board an air taxi at a skyport and be ferried to another skyport near their home. Those commercial flights could start in 2023, pending approval from the FAA.

Uber aims to eventually have passengers fly on autonomous aircraft to save weight and ensure safe flight paths, but the first commercial flights will include a human pilot on board, says Matthew Wing, spokesman for Uber Advanced Technology. People surveyed about their interest in air taxi services by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton said they would feel safer with a pilot on board an aircraft than flying on an aircraft that is autonomous or remotely piloted by a controller on the ground.

“It’s an ambitious timeline but we made it ambitious deliberately in order to push the ecosystem to deliver,” Wing says of Uber’s goal of commercial flights in 2023.