Boeing's flying car lifts off in race to revolutionise urban travel

Andrew Cummings
January 25, 2019

The PAV has gone from conceptual design to a flying prototype in one year.

An early prototype of Boeing's self-driving air taxi completed its first flight at an airfield in the United States on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT), marking what could be an early breakthrough in the company's vision for autonomous, on-demand flight.

The craft, which doesn't have a name but is referred to as a passenger air vehicle (PAV) prototype, is meant to be completely autonomous from takeoff to landing.

"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 Vice President and General Manager of Boeing NeXt, Steve Nordlund. The all-electric, self-driven aircraft will get vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities with an aim to serve as an on-demand autonomous air transport. The test flight was performed in Manassas, Virginia and the PAV is a vehicle aimed at urban air mobility. It uses an unspecified electric propulsion system that gives it a range of up to 50 miles (80.47 km).

The hope is the vehicles can be used to whisk people around cities and avoid increasing congestion on the ground but they face issues that include air space design and environmental noise.

Future flights of the 30-feet-long and 28-feet-wide PAV prototype will test forward, wing-borne flight and the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes, according to the Boeing statement. Having completed its first indoor flight in 2018, the CAV will transition to outdoor flight testing this year. While Boeing didn't say if the model is the one being developed for Uber, the ride-hailing company said separately Wednesday that the vehicle is on track to be an air taxi on the planned Uber Air network.

Are Air Taxis the Future of Urban Travel?

"This is a transformation that is going to happen faster than many of us might have thought a couple years ago", Muilenburg said, "and we are on the leading edge".

Uber also cheered the maiden flight, saying it is working with Dallas-Forth Worth and Los Angeles as part of its plan to deploy air taxis commercially in both cities by 2023.

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