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Air Force pilots test electric 'flying taxi'

Maj. Mike Corson (left), 418th Flight Test Squadron pilot, and Capt. Terrence McKenna, AFWERX Agility Prime test and experimentation lead, perform a pre-flight check on a Joby S4 aircraft. The Joby S4 is a five-seat electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. [Credit: Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force]





By Tim Tresslar, AFWERX, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio

Four Air Force pilots remotely flew a Joby electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft at the company's Marina, CA, manufacturing facility April 20. They were the first Air Force personnel to assume remote pilot-in-command responsibilities and transition flight for the eVTOL, preparing the Air Force for delivery of aircraft to Edwards Air Force Base, California.

"This next step of getting Air Force pilots trained and operating Joby aircraft at an Air Force installation is an incredibly important milestone for the program, providing key insights to actual operations, maintenance information, and use-case validation for Advanced Air Mobility aircraft," said Lt. Col. Tom Meagher, AFWERX Prime division chief. "Additionally, the Joby operations provide an outstanding opportunity for accelerated learning with the other Department of Defense services and government agencies, including NASA and the FAA."

Capt. Terrence McKenna, AFWERX Agility Prime test and experimentation lead, trains in a Joby eVTOL simulator. The Joby is a five-seat, zero-emissions eVTOL aircraft. [Credit: Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force]





The flights preceded AFWERX Agility Prime's April 25, 2023, announcement that it has entered into a third extension of its contract with Joby. AFWERX, short for "Air Force work project," is a Technology Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the innovation arm of the Department Air Force. AFWERX connects innovators across government, industry, and academia.

The extension enables options for Joby to deliver up to nine of its low-acoustic-signature, zero-operating emissions aircraft to the Air Force and other government partners. The first two Joby aircraft will be delivered to Edwards in early 2024. The Edwards aircraft permit increased utilization and testing of the five-seat eVTOLs by AFWERX and the Air Force Test Center. The aircraft mark a new phase in the program's efforts to bring zero-emissions aviation into the military and ensure a robust domestic market for eVTOL aircraft.

The first two Joby S4 aircraft will be delivered to Edwards Air Force Base before March 2024. [Credit: Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force]



The Defense Department first partnered with Joby more than six years ago and began working with Agility Prime in 2020. The DOD provides Joby with access to testing facilities, early operational experience for government customers, and a partial offset to its research and development costs.

"The Agility Prime program is a remarkably successful example of how public-private partnerships can deliver trailblazing technology at speed," said JoeBen Bevirt, Joby founder and CEO. "We're grateful for the support of the program and for the U.S. government's wider commitment to global leadership in this important new sector. As well as allowing us to explore the wide range of potential use cases across the U.S. government, our defense partners have also provided us with high-impact support as we prepare for commercial operations in 2025."

George "Hank" Griffiths Jr., AFWERX chief of airworthiness and test, flies a Joby eVTOL aircraft via a remote console. [Credit: Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force]



Edwards is the Air Force's second largest base and is the site of hundreds of significant aviation events. In October 1947, Capt. Chuck Yeager became the first to break the sound barrier flying the Bell X-1. Throughout the 1960s, the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft was the first winged aircraft to fly Mach 4, 5, and 6. In April 1981, the space shuttle Columbia, the first shuttle, landed at the California air base after orbiting Earth 37 times on its maiden voyage.

"The first flight of a Joby eVTOL aircraft by Air Force pilots builds on the decades-long legacy of breaking barriers at Edwards," said Col. Grant Mizell, 412th Test Wing Operations Group commander. "This new technology is brought to the world in rapid fashion by the convergence of commercial industry and our American Airmen working shoulder to shoulder."



[Photo courtesy: Joy Aviation]



Joby Aviation's piloted five-seat electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which is powered by six electric motors, can carry four passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph, with a maximum range of 150 miles on a single charge and zero operating emissions. It can also be piloted remotely. With more than 10 years of development and over a thousand flight tests completed, Joby is targeting the launch of its aerial ridesharing service in 2024.

As of February 2023, the Santa Cruz, CA-based company has completed the second of five stages required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to certify its eVTOL aircraft for commercial passenger use, and it has also already made substantial progress in the third stage of the certification process ("Certification Plans"). The company's manufacturing plant is in Marina, CA.

The Air Force's aims for vehicles like the Joby S4 goes beyond "flying cars," which is a term that seems to be used more to help covey the overall concept to the public than what the full scale of the endeavor entails for the Air Force at large.

In one use case, according to, "The DoD [Department of Defense] is exploring options to replace or reduce the usage of the V-22 Osprey with a flying car."

There are many other application possibilities, including military operation evacuations and even high-level personnel transport.

As Designfax reported in September 2020 on AFWERX's Agility Prime vertical lift program, "The focus for the Air Force is not just on development of the electric flying vehicles themselves. Rather, the whole Agility Prime project is being looked at holistically, and is meant to foster innovations in communications, data networks and RF waveforms, autonomy, advanced aircraft materials and manufacturing, novel acoustics techniques, subsystems, command and control, robotic landing gear, mission planning and logistics, modular payload designs, sense and avoidance sensors, electrical power (storage, generation, and charging), distributed electric propulsion control, and more -- the whole ball of wax."

Joby has developed many other partnerships throughout government, military, and commercial industry, including ventures with Toyota, Delta, and Uber -- and even Aviation High School in New York City to prepare the next generation of aircraft maintenance technicians and aerospace leaders for career opportunities created by the electric age of flight.

Sources: U.S. Air Force, AFWERX, Joby Aviation,

Published May 2023

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