An early prototype of Boeing’s self-driving air taxi completed its first flight at an airfield in Manassas, Va., on Tuesday, marking what could be an early breakthrough in the company’s vision for autonomous, on-demand flight.
The aircraft successfully took off, hovered and landed, all of which employed its autonomous navigation and landing systems, according to a release published Wednesday by the Chicago-based aerospace giant. The test marks an early milestone for Boeing’s Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary, which it acquired in 2017 for a sum that wasn’t disclosed.
“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” John Langford, president and chief executive of Aurora Flight Sciences, said in a statement. “Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”
The 30-foot-long plane has a wingspan of 28 feet, with vertical rotors designed to let it hover or fly forward for up to 50 miles. Next, the company will test the aircraft’s ability to fly forward.
The vehicle is part of a Boeing research-and-development division called NeXt, which works with technologists and government regulatory agencies to plan the eventual introduction of self-piloting air vehicles. In 2019, the company plans to test-fly an unmanned cargo plane that is designed to carry up to 500 pounds.
It’s all part of a broader effort to relieve traffic in congested cities as the company seeks to “usher in a future of safe, low-stress mobility in cities and regions around the world,” Boeing NeXt General Manager Steve Nordlund said in the company’s announcement.
Boeing is not the only company trying to build self-driving taxis: UPS, Intel and Airbus also have autonomous-flight units of their own.