Boeing said on Wednesday that their “flying car” prototype successfully hovered briefly in the air during a test flight, marking another step in revolutionizing urban transportation and delivery services.
The company is engaged in competition with Airbus SE and numerous other firms to create a small, self-flying vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and landing for everyday use. The test, which took place Tuesday in Manassas, Virginia, showed that this is possible, though the next step is to make the vehicle go forward.
“In one year, we have progressed from conceptual design to a flying prototype,” Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said in a statement.
Boeing’s aircraft is part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing plane. It lifted a few feet off the ground and made a soft landing after less than a minute in the air. The vehicle is 30 feet long and 28 feet wide. It is powered by an electric propulsion system and has a range of up to 50 miles. The company is looking forward to achieving full speed with two flying car variants capable of carrying two and four passengers each. Tests are planned for later this year on a package-hauling version that can lift up to 226.8 kilograms.
“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” John Langford, president and chief executive officer of Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, said in a press release announcing the test flight.
Boeing has said that it is working with SparkCognition Inc and the US Federal Aviation Administration to develop a traffic management system for three-dimensional highways and to sort out the regulatory and safety issues that would allow autonomous vehicles to fly safely around buildings.
The company also bought Aurora Flight Sciences last year to accelerate the development of a fleet of autonomous air vehicles and is working closely with Uber Technologies Inc’s UberAIR service for flights that are expected to be available for order via smartphones around 2023.
Boeing’s closest remaining competitors are Airbus, which says it has already conducted numerous flying vehicle test flights; Volocopter, which has tested a small helicopter-like drone taxi powered by 18 electric drives; and AeroMobil, which has a stretch-limousine concept that can turn into a fixed-wing aircraft.