A start-up with a plan to develop an air taxi for ride sharing company Uber has tweaked the concept to perform military missions such as medical evacuation and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Six months after Detroit Aircraft Company launched the AirspaceX MOBi vehicle at an Uber-hosted summit for vertical takeoff and landing air taxis, the start-up brought the tailsitting, tilting-wing aircraft that carries a modular payload pod to a Starburst Accelerator meeting at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's headquarters.
“Today is sort of a soft introduction to the defence community,” AirspaceX chief executive Jon Rimanelli tells FlightGlobal. “My number one priority is not to support the military, at the moment. My number one is to solve problems in the US and around the world in urban mobility and we leverage that technology to provide a low cost solution for the military.”
The modular system would support multiple missions including medical and casualty evacuation, tactical resupply, soldier mobility, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and munitions delivery, Rimanelli says.
AirspaceX now is looking to partner with a branch of the US military on an exercise that could help determine a gap MOBi could fill in an austere environment, he says.
The company is conducting stability control tests on a subscale demonstrator and expects initial flight tests to wrap up soon, with production of a full-scale MOBi demonstrator planned by the end of this year.
“Our objective is to build and operate one million aircraft by 2030 in the national air space which means our cost of goods are going to be so low that the military can deploy these in mass quantities,” he says. “We have designed the vehicle so spare parts and even the entire structure can be rapidly produced in theatre using additive manufacturing techniques.”
For its urban commuter role, MOBi would operate at 1,000ft or below, but the aircraft’s components have been tested to operate at a maximum altitude of 14,000ft, Rimanelli says. AirspaceX plans to keep a pilot on board as MOBi is introduced to urban centers so the machine can learn a library of approved decisions over the next decade. For a military mission though, MOBi may include a pilot in the loop, operate as an remotely piloted vehicle or even fully autonomously, he says.