Air taxi company Wisk Aero showed off its sixth-generation plane, a four-seater that is powered by electricity and can fly without a pilot. The company, which is backed by Boeing, said it will ask the FAA for permission to carry passengers as part of a commercial air taxi service.
Wisk Aero was formed in 2019 as a partnership between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, the flying taxi company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is in a race to be the first “advanced air mobility” company to get the green light from the FAA for passenger testing. Wisk says that its sixth-generation aircraft is the first candidate for type certification that can take off and land vertically using electric power.
Before starting a commercial service, aviation companies must get three types of certifications from the FAA. Type certification means that the plane meets all of the FAA’s standards for design and safety. Production certification means that the plane can start being made, and air carrier certification means that the company can start offering commercial air taxi services.
Wisk’s plane has six front rotors, each with five blades that can move horizontally or vertically, and six back rotors, each with two blades that stay in a vertical position. The company says it has a cruising speed of 120 knots, a range of 90 miles (140 kilometers) with reserves, and can fly between 2,500 and 4,000 feet above the ground.
Wisk hopes to offer a flying taxi service between cities that can be called with an app, like Uber or Lyft. The plan is that the vehicle won’t have a pilot on board. Instead, it will mostly be flown by an autopilot system, with a remote pilot keeping an eye on things. The planes would take off and land from what are called “vertiports,” which would be on the roofs of buildings.
Wisk and other companies face many challenges before launching a commercial service. Electric flight’s power-to-weight ratio is difficult. Today’s batteries don’t hold enough energy to launch most planes. Jet fuel provides 43 times more energy than an equal-weight battery.
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