A privately funded company backed by a Google co-founder has revealed details of an eight-year-old project to develop an electric air taxi named Cora that has moved to New Zealand for flight testing and early commercial operations.
The Cora vehicle unveiled by California-based Kitty Hawk on 12 March is one of at least 55 announced electric air taxi development projects now underway, but it is also one of the most well-funded. Larry Page, the Google executive, has reportedly invested more than $100 million in the concept, which was formally known as Zee.Aero.
The project had developed in great secrecy since 2010 near Google’s global headquarters in Mountain View. Images released by Kitty Hawk on 12 March reveal a steady progression of development, which began with tests of a scaled glider eight years ago.
Last August, a human pilot performed a transition from hovering to forward flight in a prototype aircraft, which featured a narrow fuselage and a lift-plus-cruise propulsion system of six sets of wing-mounted rotors for vertical flight and a pusher propeller for forward flight.
At the same time, Kitty Hawk had already built a new aircraft, according to US Federal Aviation Administration registration documents. The fuselage of the prototype tested in August was too narrow to accommodate more than one person on board. The next version that Kitty Hawk registered 2 August had a wider fuselage with room for two occupants. That vehicle was registered with the FAA as serial number 2.
Kitty Hawk partnered with the New Zealand government in October 2017, citing the country’s “forward thinking regulatory environment”, the company says.
“We couldn’t be more excited to collaborate on a new era of everyday flight,” Kitty Hawk adds.
The Cora features a lift-and-cruise configuration, which has emerged as one of three popular categories for the emerging class of electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis.
By integrating a distributed propulsion system driven by electric-powered motors, a new industry is attempting to form for providing small numbers of passengers with short rides over gridlocked urban traffic.
The US Federal Aviation Administration currently lacks a certification basis to accept the airworthiness of such vehicles to transport fare-paying passengers. But the agency is working with several manufacturers to develop consensus-based standards compatible with Part 23 in the Federal Aviation Regulations.
Kitty Hawk’s competitors include Joby Aviation, which announced raising $100 million in a Series B round of financing last month. Several major aircraft manufacturers, including Boeing, Airbus and Bell, are also developing prototypes for the eVTOL air taxi market.