Taking a flight in an autonomous, unmanned plane might be a crazy proposition for some – but robot passenger planes could be the future of air travel. As a fascinating new video reveals.
For his ‘Airplane Mode’ series, Nicky Kelvineditor-in-chief at The points guygoes behind the scenes at Wisk Aero headquarters in Mountain View, Californiato learn more about its revolutionary, fully electric, unmanned air taxi.
What makes the plane even more futuristic is that it has electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) capabilities.
In the video, Nicky meets with Brian Yutko, CEO of Wisk, who shows Nicky inside a Wisk Air Taxi Gen 6, the model for which Wisk plans to seek Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization, then market it to transport passengers.
Nicky asks what the benefits of the plane’s eVTOL system are. Brian explained: “These planes are designed to operate close to where people live. You need to be able to take off and land vertically, then fly like an airplane.
For his “Airplane Mode” series, Nicky Kelvin, Editor-in-Chief at The Points Guy, goes behind the scenes at Wisk Aero’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, to learn about its revolutionary all-electric unmanned air taxi .
Wisk Aero has been developing air taxi prototypes since 2010
What makes Wisk’s plane even more futuristic is that it has electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) capabilities.
Brian anticipates that he will first look to commercialize his planes to ensure airport transfers.
In the long term, the company aims to provide air taxi services to densely populated urban centers.
Brian said: “Eventually we will see vertiport to vertiport, so places that are not airports currently start to be connected (a vertiport is a hub for eVTOL aircraft to take off and land).
When asked how safe Wisk aircraft are, Brian explained that engineers must adhere to strict safety protocols: “We design around a target safety level that is actually quite similar to what you would encounter on large commercial airplanes. And that turns into an incredible amount of redundancy (safety redundancies are duplications and backups to keep an aircraft operating in the event of a system failure).’
Wisk CEO Brian Yutko shows Nicky the inside of Wisk’s latest model, the Gen 6, which he hopes to bring to market
Gen 6 Wisk air taxi can carry four passengers and carry-on luggage
By pressing a “help” button, passengers can attract the attention of a “hospitality manager” to provide information via video.
While several companies are developing electric air taxis that take off and land vertically, Wisk is the only company currently aiming to launch an air taxi service with both eVTOL and unmanned flight.
Since 2010, it has developed several generations of air taxi prototypes and conducted more than 1,750 test flights.
Brian takes Nicky to the “autonomy lab”, explaining that it is essentially the operations studio for the ground crew assisting the planes.
Brian said: “Obviously this plane is designed not to have a pilot on board. But the system is designed for a person on the ground to supervise the plane.
“In this laboratory we have people who will talk to air traffic control. This is the role of the multi-vehicle supervisor. It is not possible to fly the plane with a joystick.
A look inside the “autonomy lab,” essentially an operations studio for ground crew assisting the planes. Called “multi-vehicle supervisors,” they oversee the plane’s flight plans but do not pilot the planes remotely.
Exciting concept: an early prototype of the Wisk Air Taxi at Wisk headquarters
Wisk’s director of product design, Uri Tzarnotzky, demonstrates how he uses 3D printers to build and study prototypes, including accessories inside the aircraft.
“These are incredibly automated systems and typically the supervisor approves a flight plan that is suggested to him by the aircraft and by the automation itself.”
When Nicky asked why they chose to pursue autonomous aircraft development, Brian responded, “We think that’s going to be the end state of this system (eVTOL aircraft), so we’re going straight for it.”
The advantage of autonomous flight, he explained, is that it allows them to “move the planes in a very flexible way.”
Nicky meets Wisk’s Director of Product Design, Uri Tzarnotzky, to learn more about how the company uses 3D printers to build and study prototypes, including accessories inside the aircraft.
The Wisk Air Taxi Gen 5 takes off (vertically, naturally) for a test flight
The on-board computer is designed to reassure passengers by showing them the flight path and expected journey time.
While watching the Gen 5 Wisk Air Taxi fly, Nicky noticed that it was unlike any other plane he had seen, especially during takeoff. He says: “What’s really remarkable is that it’s so silent, so graceful – the way it floats and goes on its merry way.”
According to Uri, the interior of the aircraft is designed to create a reassuring environment for the passenger, in the absence of cabin crew or the pilot.
Internal layouts, for example, are designed with textures designed to help passengers understand what is safe or dangerous. Uri said: “This is done with form, and we also reinforce it with colors, materials and finishes. »
There is a video interface inside the machine. By pressing a “help” button, passengers alert the attention of a “hospitality manager” to provide information about where they are currently, what is happening and where they are going.
According to Uri and CEO Brian, this helps passengers anticipate their trip and feel safe.
In the video, Nicky then heads to Hollister Municipal Airport, California, to see an earlier prototype, the Gen 5 Wisk Air Taxi, in flight.
He talks with test pilot Mike Luvan, who explains: “We’re going to show you all the capabilities of the plane: vertical takeoff, transition to wing flight, mid-air stop, turnaround and return.”
Watching the Gen 5 Air Taxi take off, Nicky said: “Seeing this for the first time is truly amazing… It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It doesn’t move like a helicopter, and certainly not like a normal fixed-wing plane when it goes up, down and around.
“What’s really remarkable is that it’s so silent, so graceful – the way it floats and goes on its merry way. »
Once the plane lands safely, Nicky is convinced: “I actually can’t wait for the technology to get it to a place where I can get on one of them.”