NASA and US air taxi developer Joby Aviation have started a ten-day flight-test programme using Joby’s in-development air taxi – part of a NASA effort to help advance “urban air mobility” technology.

The flights kick off a broader NASA project under which the agency will partner with several companies developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

The test flights with Joby involve that company’s eVTOL – an aircraft with six motors and six vertical props that Joby aims to have certificated in 2023. Flights are being conducted at Joby’s flight base near Big Sur, California, and will run through 10 September.

Joby Aviation_Aircraft_3

Source: Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation expects its eVTOL to enter commercial operations in 2024.

“NASA’s goal is to collect vehicle performance and acoustic data for use in modelling and simulation of future airspace concepts,” the agency says on 1 September. “In the future, eVTOL aircraft could serve as air taxis for those in cities and surrounding areas around the country, adding another mode of transportation for moving people and goods.”

NASA will measure the aircraft’s sound using a “mobile acoustics facility” composed of more than 50 microphones, it says.

“Using this data, NASA and Joby will generate noise hemispheres for the aircraft that capture the intensity and the character of the sound emitted, in comparison to helicopters, drones and other aircraft,” Joby says.

For their designs to be commercially successful, developers of eVTOLs must overcome concern by city officials about excessive aircraft noise.

“The NASA team will collect information about how the vehicle moves, how the vehicle sounds and how the vehicle communicates with controllers,” says NASA. The tests “will help identify gaps in current Federal Aviation Administration regulations and policies to help incorporate AAM aircraft into” national airspace.

Joby, based in Santa Cruz, California, became publicly traded in August but has been developing its eVTOL for years. The aircraft will have a single pilot, carry four passengers, fly at speeds up to 174kt (322km/h) and have more than 130nm (241km) of range on a single charge, Joby says in regulatory documents. 

The company aims to begin passenger flights in 2024.

NASA is partnering with eVTOL developers and related technology providers through its National Campaign, an effort to evaluate air taxi safety, technology and challenges, and to promote public confidence in the aircraft. Other partners include aircraft developer Wisk Aero, autonomy company Reliable Robotics amd various eVTOL infrastructure and air traffic management technology providers.

The campaign sits under NASA’s broader Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) project.