The investments, fuelled by jumps in autonomous technology as far as frustration with road congestion, can alter the face of the aerospace industry within the next decade.
Boeing’s 30-foot-long (9 meter) aircraft – part aircraft, part drone and part fixed-wing plane – lifted a few feet off the floor and made a soft landing after less than a minute of being airborne on Tuesday in an airport in Manassas, Virginia, Boeing said.
Future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight.
Major barriers to Boeing’s vision of”low-stress” mobility – as it is called in the organization’s marketing materials – include sorting out numerous crucial safety and regulatory issues to meld traditional roadway traffic with fleets of flying cars.
Boeing is working with startup SparkCognition along with the US Federal Aviation Administration to develop a traffic-management system for three-dimensional highways, in addition to the regulatory framework that will enable waves of autonomous vehicles to zip safely around buildings, the company has said.
Boeing purchased Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences a year ago to accelerate growth of a fleet of autonomous air vehicles. With Aurora, Boeing is also working on Uber Technologies’s UberAIR service for flights which are intended to be available for order through mobiles around 2023.
Boeing is looking to achieve a range of 50 miles with two flying automobile variants capable of carrying four and two passengers each. Tests are planned for later this season on a package-hauling variation that may lift up to 500 pounds (226.8 kg).
Competitors range from Airbus, which states it’s already conducted numerous flying vehicle test flights, to Volocopter, which includes tested drone flights that resemble a small helicopter powered by 18 rotors, and AeroMobil, using a stretch-limousine concept that can turn into a fixed-wing aircraft.
Vertical Robotics, that finished a flight test last year, aims to supply brief inter-city flights in the coming years using a piloted aircraft capable of transporting several passengers.
“The future of freedom — transferring products, moving cargo — moving individuals – that future is happening now and it is likely to accelerate over the next five decades and ramp up much more beyond that,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s president, chairman and CEO, told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.