NASA begins electric air taxi flight testing with Joby Aviation

Joby’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is pictured at the company's Electric Flight Base, located near Big Sur, California.
Joby’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is pictured at the company's Electric Flight Base, located near Big Sur, California. Credits: Joby Aviation

NASA has begun flight testing with Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, more commonly known as air taxis. The flight testing is part of the agency’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign to observe these experimental aircraft in action and determine whether they are safe for passengers.

Founded in 2009, the California-based Joby Aviation is the first company in the eVTOL industry to participate in the campaign. The flight tests start Monday, August 30, at Joby’s Electric Flight Base located near Big Sur, California, and will run through Friday, September 10. In the future, the eVTOL aircraft could serve as air taxis for those in cities and surrounding areas around the country, adding another mode of transportation for moving people and goods.

NASA will be collecting vehicle performance and acoustic data for use in modeling and simulation of future airspace concepts.

In other words, it will be monitoring information about how the vehicle moves, how the vehicle sounds, and how the vehicle communicates with controllers. The agency plans on conducting similar tests with additional eVTOL companies in the future. In addition, it will be responsible for establishing a legal framework for the use of these eVTOLs, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The National Campaign Developmental Testing is an important strategic step in NASA’s goals to accelerate the AAM industry timeline,” said Davis Hackenberg, NASA AAM mission integration manager. “These testing scenarios will help inform gaps in current standards to benefit the industry’s progress of integrating AAM vehicles into the airspace.

Joby, who plans to launch its first air taxi service in 2024, and other eVTOL companies, such as Volocopter and Lilium, hope to eventually gain FAA certification, but that process will likely take a long time. Some experts said it could take up to five years or more for the FAA to grant certification to an eVTOL company.

When fully integrated into the national airspace, AAM will provide an efficient and affordable system for passenger and cargo transportation and other applications in the public interest. This system could include aircraft like package delivery drones, air taxis, and medical transport vehicles.