A “self-flying” electric air taxi, as built by a startup backed by Google moneybags Larry Page, has reportedly been undergoing flight tests in New Zealand.
“What if flying across town was as easy as hopping in a rideshare? What if Cora could fly for you? Cora will combine self-flying software with expert human supervision, so you can enjoy the ride,” says a statement on the Kitty Hawk website.
“Cora rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops,” continues the corporate blurb.
Kitty Hawk’s Cora aircraft is a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft. It has a dozen vertically oriented electric fans (non-ducted) providing lift, with a separate pusher-arrangement (rear-facing) propeller for forward thrust. The lift fans are mounted both forward and aft of its conventional straight fixed wings.
A video of the Cora shows that the aircraft carries a US N-registration, meaning that this is a proper aeroplane that needs to be under the control of a properly licensed pilot to be legally flown. The firm itself says the craft holds experimental airworthiness certificates from both New Zealand and the US.
Kitty Hawk’s public statements do not indicate how its self-flying software works, though in the event of an incident, if it cannot prove that a licensed pilot was ultimately able to take over control, it may find itself in hot water with regulators. We have asked the firm for more information about this.
“Because our fans & propellers are electric, they can operate independently. An issue with one has no effect on the others,” says a fact sheet on the company’s rather hard-to-navigate website. The aircraft also incorporates triple-redundancy flight control computers (just as airliners do).
Flight tests have been taking place in New Zealand since October 2017 – despite Kitty Hawk’s firmly American roots – in what some have interpreted as a snub to the US Federal Aviation Administration regulator. Kitty Hawk itself is the North Carolina, US, location of the Wright Brothers’ first ever heavier-than-air, powered, manned, fixed-wing flight more than a century ago.
The company, founded by Google X gros fromage Sebastian Thrum, is reportedly funded direct by Larry Page rather than through Google or its holding company, Alphabet, though its corporate HQ sits alongside Google in Mountain View, California, which is in the southwestern part of the US, near the coast.
Kitty Hawk says the Coras will not be available for the public to buy, instead they will be targeting this at airlines and “rideshares”. ®