Joby Aviation Crashes eVTOL Prototype During Testing
Joby Aviation, a California-based company developing an all-electric aircraft for commercial passenger service, recently announced an accident during flight testing of its market-leading eVTOL aircraft prototype. The first experimental prototype of Joby Aviation’s S4 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi crashed on February 16 during a remotely piloted flight at the company’s remote flight test base in Jolon, California.
NTSB investigators confirmed there were no injuries during the accident. The preliminary accident report indicated Joby’s first pre-production prototype, registered as N542AJ, experienced a component failure that resulted in substantial damage when the aircraft crashed.
In the weeks leading up to the accident, Joby had been expanding its flight envelope, announcing that it had reached a speed of 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour) in January 2022 and an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) in February. On the day of the crash, flight tracking data show the aircraft was being pushed over 270 mph (435 km/h), well beyond its advertised top speed of 200 mph (322 km/h).
In its SEC filing, the California startup stated, “Experimental flight test programs are intentionally designed to determine the limits of aircraft performance, and accidents are unfortunately a possibility.”
Joby Aviation S4 eVTOL
Ten years in the making, the S4 was designed to help transport people in congested cities and connect under-served rural communities. With a distance of up to 150 miles on a single charge and four-passenger capacity, the whisper-quiet aircraft, which takes off and lands vertically, will allow customers to book a seat on one of its aircraft like they would on a rideshare app.
Joby Aviation’s S4 is a 5 seat eVTOL (1 pilot and 4 passengers) vectored-thrust aircraft using 6 tilting propellers, located on both a 35 ft fixed-wing and its V-tail. Four propellers tilt vertically, including its entire motor nacelle, and two of the propellers tilt vertically with a linkage mechanism.
The aircraft has a modern and futuristic design with large windows for spectacular views and a tricycle-type retractable wheeled landing gear. The company reports their aircraft is 100 times quieter than a helicopter during takeoff and landing with a near-silent flyover.
Restarting the Flight Test Program
Until this point, Joby has been well ahead of the pack. This is one of the 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.
While the February 16 incident can be seen as a setback for Joby, the company plans on continuing to make prototype aircraft in Marina, California, and will use Toyota production facilities to mass-produce the aircraft. The company’s second prototype – a newer and similar version of N542AJ – recently joined the test fleet after being certificated for experimental flights by the FAA and the U.S. Air Force as part of Joby’s contract with the military’s Agility Prime program.
Joby is expecting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide certification for their aircraft by 2022 and expect the public to rideshare their aircraft in 2023. The company is also seeking certification for its aircraft in countries worldwide. The aircraft will be used for on-demand urban air mobility (UAM), an air taxi, and the aircraft will not be for sale to the consumer.
Reimagining Air Mobility
Founded in 2009, Joby Aviation has pioneered electric vertical flight to build what could become a defining feature in cities of the future. We have all seen the movies depicting utopias and dystopias alike, with flying aircraft whizzing above the skies ferrying humanity to new locations. This could very well be the first innings of this sci-fi future.
Joby started gaining serious momentum for the flying taxi in 2020 when Toyota Motor Corp. announced it would invest $400 million and help design a 450,000-square-foot factory. That same year, Joby acquired Uber Elevate and was also endorsed by the U.S. Air Force. In 2021, Joby cemented itself as king of the North American eVTOL market after announcing a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, resulting in a combined equity value of $6.6 billion.
The company combines elements of helicopters and small airplanes, offering benefits that include high reliability, zero emissions, fast flight speeds, quiet operations, lower operating costs, lower costs of maintenance, and enhanced safety features.
Since these aircraft will take off and land vertically, the future eVTOL infrastructure can be layered directly on urban centers. Think landing ports on skyscraper rooftops or lounges built into existing downtown buildings. This is a critical facilitator of the expansion of urban air mobility.
Building the Pilot Pipeline
Joby is currently working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to secure its Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate, establishing the processes and regulatory approvals necessary for the company to operate commercially, with an expected service launch in 2024. Because the company intends to both manufacture and operate its aircraft, the company has to train a new generation of pilots.
The company recently partnered with CAE, a company with more than 75 years of experience in the design, development, and manufacture of flight simulators to develop flight simulation devices to train future eVTOL pilots. CAE will use Joby’s core simulation technology, which has been in development for the last five years, to create a suite of pilot training devices for a new generation of pilots to operate Joby’s eVTOL aircraft.
Joby’s fly-by-wire aircraft employs a unified flight control system and uses controls similar to fixed-wing aircraft, resulting in a smooth transition for pilots. The idea behind unified flight control is to reduce the ability of the pilot to make errors and crash the aircraft. Pilots can run out of fuel, run into the ground, hill, or mountain, have mid-air collisions, and when landing, can have ground collisions. With a unified flight control system, pilot error is avoided entirely.
eVTOLs are set to revolutionize short-haul networks across numerous metropolises by the time the 2030s arrive. There will be a few growing pains along the way, but these new flying machines will change how we travel short distances. Overall, eVTOLs will increase our speed, lower transportation costs, and keep the air clean.
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