Airmen to fly electric air taxis at California military base by next year
Stars and Stripes April 26, 2023
Edwards Air Force Base in California is set to become the first U.S. military base to have electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft on site for airmen to put to the test.
Two of the aircraft, sometimes called electronic air taxis, are expected to arrive at the base early next year, with up to seven more delivered in subsequent months, manufacturer Joby Aviation announced Tuesday.
The Air Force in recent years has been supporting the development of electric aircraft, which it describes as more environmentally friendly, quieter and cheaper to maintain than fuel-burning planes and helicopters.
The Joby Aviation aircraft is powered by six electric motors, can carry a pilot and four passengers, and is said to have a range of up to 150 miles. The delivery is part of a $55 million contract extension between the company and the Air Force that brings their total agreement to over $130 million, the company said in a statement.
AFWERX, an Air Force program that supports technological innovation, awarded Joby the contract. It’s also working with several other companies to accelerate fielding of the most promising eVTOL technologies.
The Army, Navy and Marine Corps also are looking into the technology.
Manufacturers of electronic aircraft envision a wide range of military uses, including reconnaissance, transportation, logistics and medical evacuations. They’re also being developed for commercial use.
Tuesday’s announcement came just days after four pilots became the first airmen to remotely fly an eVTOL aircraft through a transition. That’s when the propellers of an aircraft moving vertically tilt forward and allow it to move horizontally.
Once the aircraft arrive at Edwards Air Force Base, airmen will train to fly them remotely and from inside the aircraft, Megan Lamb, a spokeswoman for Joby Aviation said by email.
In March 2022, two Air Force pilots in New York state become the first airmen to fly inside an electric aircraft through the AFWERX Agility Prime program. That aircraft was made by Vermont-based Beta Technologies.
Edwards Air Force Base is the Air Force’s second-largest base and has been the site of scores of aviation milestones. It’s where Capt. Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 first broke the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947. It’s also where the X-15 became the first winged aircraft to fly Mach 4, 5 and 6.
“We ae honored to continue the tradition of accelerating emerging aviation technology as we become the first base to exercise electric air taxis,” Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, director of the Air Force’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force, said in the statement.