Boeing is coming closer to making its flying taxis for Uber a reality with its first successful test flight.
Boeing executives are convinced they are on the right path to developing on-demand autonomous air taxis. Boeing has released video of a test flight showing its autonomous passenger air vehicle lifting off, hovering for a short time before making a controlled landing.
"In one year we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype," Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop said in a statement.
The test flight in Manassas, Virginia, did not last long and did not include the aircraft flying forward. Boeing also did not test how the "PAV" transitions between vertical lift-off and flying forward. The prototype is battery powered and will have a range of 50 miles.
Boeing executives said they believe its PAV could eventually be used for air taxi fleets and for other commercial air services.
Boeing is in a race with traditional aviation manufacturers as well as tech firms and start-ups to develop autonomous air taxis. Textron subsidiary Bell, which has a long history building helicopters, is also working on small unmanned aircraft that will, in theory, shuttle people short distances in cities. Boeing and Bell are partnering with Uber as it maps out plans for an air taxi service called Uber Air.
"This successful flight test is a tremendous step forward, taking aerial ridesharing from a vision to the skies in less than two years since Uber Elevate was first formed" and it partnered with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, Eric Allison, head of Elevate at Uber, said in a statement.
Boeing rival Airbus and the German start-up Volocopter are developing their own air taxi prototypes.
The question is when these flying machines will go from test flights to carrying people for short flights. Uber is targeting a launch of Uber Air by 2023. Others who have studied the fledgling industry believe it may take much longer for the Federal Aviation Administration to sign off on air taxis flying around cities.
"We will unlock the potential of the urban air mobility market," said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt, the aerospace giant's subsidiary developing autonomous air taxis.