Air Force Receives First eVTOL Six Months Ahead of Schedule

Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director, Paul Sciarra, Joby Aviation, Inc. executive chairman, Wayne Ringleberg, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center chief pilot, Col. Douglas Wickert, 412th Test Wing commander, and Maj. Phillip Woddhull, Emerging Technologies Integrated Test Force director, cut the ribbon officially opening a large area maintenance shelter for Joby Aviation’s electric vertical take-off and landing test aircraft during a ceremony on Edwards Air Force Base, Sept. 25. (Image: Air Force photo by Richard Gonzales)

The U.S. Air Force received its first electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft from Joby Aviation last week, six months ahead of the expected 2024 delivery date. The delivery was completed during a ceremony at Edwards Air Force Base, where the Emerging Technologies Integrated Test Force (ET-ITF) and 412th Test Wing will begin flight testing and evaluating Joby's eVTOL.

Joby’s aircraft is the first electric air taxi to be stationed on a U.S. military base and is believed to be the first delivery of an electric air taxi in the U.S., as part of Joby’s $131 million AFWERX Agility Prime contract to deliver up to nine aircraft to the Air Force. The first eVTOL delivery to Edwards marks the latest battery-powered aircraft milestone for the Air Force, after BETA Technologies delivered the first electric aircraft charging station to Duke Field, Florida a week before Joby’s delivery.

"Just looking at that. I mean you're looking at the future. That is obvious," Col. Douglas Wickert, Commander, 412th Test Wing, said during the live-streamed delivery ceremony at Edwards.

On-base operations with Joby aircraft will be used to demonstrate a range of logistics missions, including cargo and passenger transportation, and will be operated by both Joby and Air Force personnel. NASA will also use the aircraft for research focused on how these aircraft could fit into the national airspace, benefiting the entire air taxi industry.

The aircraft, which was the first built on Joby’s pilot production line at its Marina, California facility, will be stationed at Edwards for at least the next year, with charging and ground support equipment provided on-base by Joby in a facility purpose-built by the Air Force for joint flight test operations. According to Joby, the Air Force will flight test the eVTOL in "realistic mission settings" and Air Force pilots and maintenance crews will also receive training on the new aircraft.

Ahead of the first delivery, ET-ITF test pilots spent time with the eVTOL aircraft and systems at Joby’s Marina, California facility. This has allowed for a swift transition into developmental flight test operations at Edwards. Test sorties are anticipated to begin eminently.

In partnership with the Air Force’s AFWERX program, NASA will also be supporting this testing at Edwards Air Force Base with NASA’s pilots, researchers, and equipment as part of their commitment to advancing the integration of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS). NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center is located on Edwards Air Force Base, and has a long history of supporting important technological milestones in aviation and space, including supersonic and hypersonic flight, digital fly-by-wire control systems, and the space shuttles.

“NASA’s participation in the Joby and AFWERX project will provide our researchers with hands-on experience with a representative eVTOL vehicle, concentrated on how these types of aircraft could fit into the national airspace for everyday use, that will inform NASA’s effort in supporting the entire eVTOL industry,” said NASA Research Pilot Wayne Ringelberg. “The research will include a focus on handling qualities evaluation tools, autonomy, and airspace integration, which is all needed research to push the industry forward.”

Over the past year, the U.S. Air Force and Marines have made multiple visits to Joby’s manufacturing and flight test. Four U.S. Air Force pilots completed full remotely-piloted transition flights of the Joby aircraft in April, and two groups of Marines visited in May to conduct mission analysis regarding potential logistics and medical applications of the aircraft.

With a range of up to 100 miles plus energy reserves and a top speed of 200 mph, the Joby aircraft is capable of transporting a pilot and four passengers with zero operating emissions.

A second Joby aircraft is on track to be delivered to Edwards in early 2024.