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Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences

“What revolution looks like”: first pilot-less passenger flight

Boeing’s newly designed autonomous passenger air vehicle has completed its first flight, with more testing to follow.

Boeing has “successfully” completed the first test flight of its autonomous passenger air vehicle, or PAV, prototype at Manassas Airport in Virginia.

Boeing NeXt, which is leading the aircraft manufacturer’s urban air mobility efforts, made use of technicians at Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, to design and develop the electric-powered vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

It says it will now continue testing to “advance the safety and reliability” of on-demand autonomous air transportation.

The PAV prototype completed a controlled take-off, hover and landing during the flight, which tested the vehicle’s autonomous functions and ground control systems with no pilot on board.

Future flights will test forward wing-borne flight as well as the transition phase between vertical and forward-flight modes. This transition phase is “the most significant engineering challenge for any high-speed VTOL aircraft”, Boeing claims.

Flying prototype
Powered by an electric propulsion system, the PAV prototype is designed for fully autonomous flight from take-off to landing with a range of up to 80 kilometres.

Measuring just over nine metres long and 8.5 metres wide, its airframe integrates the propulsion and wing systems to achieve hover and forward flight.

“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” exclaimed John Langford, president and chief executive of Aurora Flight Sciences. “Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.”

“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer.

“Boeing’s expertise and innovation have been critical in developing aviation as the world’s safest and most efficient form of transportation, and we will continue to lead with a safe, innovative and responsible approach to new mobility solutions.”

Boeing NeXt is looking ahead to “a future where autonomous and piloted air vehicles safely coexist”.

In addition to the PAV, its portfolio includes an unmanned electric cargo air vehicle (CAV) designed to transport up to 227 kilogrammes as well as other urban, regional and global mobility platforms. The CAV completed its first indoor flight last year and will start outdoor flight testing in 2019.

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