Boeing this week completed the first test flight from a Manassas airfield of a prototype drone that can carry passengers. It’s not calling it that though. Rather, it’s an “autonomous passenger air vehicle” (PAV), officially named Boeing NeXt.
The aircraft leads the company’s urban air mobility efforts and uses an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Boeing said it will continue testing to advance the safety and reliability of on-demand autonomous air transportation.
In other words, the aircraft takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, then uses wings to fly horizontally to its destination. Either of those actions is complicated, but the transition between is even more so, company officials said. Wednesday’s flight consisted of a “controlled takeoff, hover and landing,” meaning it didn’t actually go anywhere but successfully became airborne, hovered and then came back down.
“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop. “Boeing’s expertise and innovation have been critical in developing aviation as the world’s safest and most efficient form of transportation, and we will continue to lead with a safe, innovative and responsible approach to new mobility solutions.”
Powered by an electric propulsion system, the PAV prototype is designed for fully autonomous flight from takeoff to landing, with a range of up to 50 miles (80.47 kilometers). Measuring 30 feet (9.14 meters) long and 28 feet (8.53 meters) wide, its advanced airframe integrates the propulsion and wing systems to achieve efficient hover and forward flight.
“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” said John Langford, president and chief executive officer of Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. “Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”
“Boeing was there when the aviation industry was born and in our second century, we will unlock the potential of the urban air mobility market,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt. “From building air vehicles to airspace integration, we will usher in a future of safe, low-stress mobility in cities and regions around the world.”