US military fuels eVTOL research with $75m contract

The renewed agreement more than doubles the DoD's deal with Joby Aviation

A flying taxi company with plans to take to the skies by 2024 has just received a $45 million cash infusion from the United States Department of Defense to explore military applications.

Joby Aviation, which is primarily focused on building electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger craft, said in a statement that it has already been working with defense agencies for five years, and the expansion of its deal with the DoD will bring its total contract to as much as $75 million.

Planned to run through 2025, Joby's DoD contract sees it participating in the US Air Force's Agility Prime program, which the branch describes as a collaborative initiative between the military and civilian industries to test, experiment and accelerate commercial development of eVTOL craft. 

Joby was the first eVTOL maker to be granted military airworthiness approval for its four-passenger, one-pilot aircraft with a top speed of 200mph (322km/h) and a 150-mile (241km) range. 

The expansion of Joby's contract includes adding the participation of the US Marine Corps, which was the last of the four major US military branches to experiment with Joby's designs. Like the other branches, the Marine Corps will test Joby aircraft's ability to aid military operations in a non-combat capacity.

According to Joby, "government-directed flight tests and use case exploration, including resupply, relocation of personnel, and emergency medical response applications" will be part of the continuing program.

Joby Aviation has also worked with NASA, which collected data on the vehicles as part of its Advanced Air Mobility program for promoting new travel technologies. 

Joby was the first company to be tested under the program, which saw NASA engineers test the vehicle's movement, as well as how much sound it made in use. NASA's data was handed over to the Federal Aviation Administration, which granted Joby a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate in May 2022 – one of three FAA certifications the company needs to operate eVTOL craft as air taxis. 

The Part 135 ACC allows Joby to operate commercial aircraft, but doesn't give the company permission to begin flights of its eVTOL. Those permissions will be granted by the FAA's Type Certificate, certifying that Joby's eVTOL and its components have been certified safe, and a Production Certificate okaying the company to produce more vehicles to the same FAA-approved specifications. 

Flying cars have long been a dream, but it wasn't until recently that functional designs began emerging. Joby isn't the only name in the growing eVTOL realm either, nor is it the only one to get attention from agencies – or companies – with deep pockets.

Just last month it was revealed that American Airlines made pre-delivery payments for 50 of UK-based Vertical Aerospace's VX4 eVTOL, which has a reported range of at least 100 miles (161km), can hold four passengers and a pilot and cruises at a top speed of 202mph (325km/h). 

Vertical Aerospace has said it only recently completed its VX4 prototype, which it plans to bring to market in 2025. The company has yet to conduct aerial tests of the vehicle. ®

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