Air taxi startup Wisk Aero unveiled its sixth-generation aircraft, an all-electric four-seater that can fly without a human pilot. The Boeing-backed company said it will seek approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers as part of a commercial air taxi service.
Founded in 2019 as a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, the flying taxi company funded by Google co-founder Larry Page and recently shut down, Wisk is in a race to become the first so-called Advanced Air Mobility company. that get the green light from the FAA for passenger testing. Wisk claims its sixth-generation aircraft is the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) candidate for type certification.
Under FAA rules, airlines must receive three types of certification before they are allowed to start commercial service. Type certification means the aircraft meets all FAA design and safety standards; production certification is the approval to start production of the aircraft; and airline certification means the company can officially operate commercial air taxi services.
Wisk’s plane has six front rotors, each with five blades, that can tilt horizontally or vertically, as well as six rear rotors, each consisting of two blades, which remain 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 at altitudes of 2,500-4,000 feet above the ground.
Wisk aims to one day provide an intercity flying taxi service that can be called up with an app, such as Uber or Lyft. The vehicle is not intended to have a pilot on board; instead, it will primarily be flown by an autopilot system, supervised by a remote human pilot. The plane would theoretically take off and land from so-called vertiports located on the roofs of buildings.
The company has said it hopes to launch an air taxi service within the next five years, at which point it forecasts 14 million flights a year in about 20 major markets around the world.
Air taxis, sometimes mistakenly identified as “flying cars,” are essentially helicopters without the noisy, polluting gas engines (though they certainly have their own unique sound profile). In addition to Wisk, companies like Joby Aviation, Volocopter, Ehang and Archer have claimed they are about to launch services that will eventually scale nationally.
They have managed to attract funding from a number of established companies, including Hyundai, Toyota, Airbus, Boeing, Bell and Uber. Analysts predict that the flying taxi market could grow to $150 billion in revenue by 2035.
Of course, serious obstacles remain before Wisk or any other company can launch a commercial service. The power-to-weight ratio is a huge challenge for electric flying. Energy density – the amount of energy stored in a given system – is the most important measure, and today’s batteries don’t contain enough energy to get most planes off the ground. To weigh it up, jet fuel gives us about 43 times more energy than a battery of the same weight.
There have been numerous demonstrations of battery-powered flying, but there are no electric aircraft in commercial operation anywhere in the world.