Kittyhawk Signals Its Imminent Exit from eVTOL Aircraft Innovation
The company founded by Google gurus Larry Page and Sebastian Thrun says it is still "working out what's next" but has decided to wind down its operation.
Heaviside has been the main focus of Kittyhawk's efforts to develop an eVTOL personal air vehicle since it stopped work on another single-seat model called the Flyer. The California-based company has consistently refused to provide any information about the development timeline for the all-electric aircraft. In June 2020, it laid off 70 staff as part of the reorganization to focus entirely on the Heaviside project.
Kitty Hawk claims that Heaviside will be "100 times quieter" than existing helicopters. It said that in test flights it has demonstrated sound levels of 35 dBA at 1,500 feet and claimed that this will mean almost no noise will be heard from the aircraft within 30 seconds of takeoff. The company says that flight testing of what appears to be a technology demonstrator has achieved a range of 100 miles and speeds of up to 180 mph (while maintaining one-quarter of the charge in its batteries for safety reserves). One of its development aircraft crashed on October 17, 2019, in an accident that investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded was caused by software timing errors compromising flight controls.
Kittyhawk is also a joint venture partner with Boeing in Wisk, which is developing the Cora eVTOL aircraft for planned air taxi operations.
On March 2, 2021, the company announced it was working with Denmark-based healthcare group Falck to begin developing a medical support version of the Heaviside eVTOL aircraft. Falck hopes to improve emergency response time while reducing the cost of medical flights. Kittyhawk, to date, has built 13 prototype aircraft with more than 700 test flights under its belt. Still, the company remains secretive about its development timeline for the long-running Heaviside program.
On July 9, 2021, Heaviside became the next eVTOL design to be issued military airworthiness by the U.S. Airforce, allowing Kittyhawk to earn revenue through the U.S Air Force conducted Agility Prime research and development program.
On January 24 2022, U.S. Air Force Captain Terrence McKenna was announced as the first USAF officer to control a remotely piloted eVTOL aircraft under the direct control of the government after he took the controls of a Heaviside prototype in December 2021.
On September 21, Kittyhawk used Twitter to announce its intention to "wind down" the company, saying it was "still working on what's next." As of September 28, the company still had made no further announcements about its future or that of the Heaviside program.
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Since Kittyhawk spun off its Cora eVTOL aircraft into the new Wisk joint venture with Boeing, it has been unclear what will become of its Heaviside personal air vehicle. The company, which is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, has already stopped work on another model called the Flyer and laid off around 70 staff in June 2020.
Boeing's September 2020 announcement that it is closing its Boeing NeXt advanced technology division raised further doubts about Wisk's future, although the company insists the Cora program will continue. Kittyhawk has made no public statements about its long term plans beyond releasing some video of Heaviside test flights conducted in 2019.
News that Danish emergency medical service provider Falck has signaled its intention to use Heaviside in its operations appears to have given the program some fresh impetus, although details of the collaboration remain vague.
Kittyhawk's abrupt announcement in late September 2022 that the company would be wound down caught the advanced air mobility sector by surprise. Reportedly, company staff only found out about the move on the day news broke via Twitter. Still to be resolved is what this means for Kittyhawk's stake (with partner Boeing) in eVTOL aircraft developer Wisk Aero.
The Heaviside tiltrotor aircraft has eight electric motors, powering eight propellers. Six of the tilting propellers are located on the rear edge of the main wing, with two more on a forward canard.
During flight testing, it has demonstrated range of 100 miles and speeds of up to 180 mph, with one quarter of available electric charge remaining in its batteries for safety reserves.
The improbably-branded aircraft is reportedly named after 19th century British electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, who pioneered circuit analysis.