The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

After more than a decade of keeping its plans close to its chest, Wisk Aero finally went public in October 2022 with the design for its planned four-passenger eVTOL air taxi that will operate autonomously. Privately-owned Kitty Hawk has been working on the Cora eVTOL design since December 2011, but this turns out to have been purely a demonstrator model intended to prove the core technology.

On June 25, 2019, the company announced a strategic partnership with Boeing NeXt around the program. Then in December 2019, this situation became clearer when Boeing and Kitty Hawk announced the formation of a new joint venture called Wisk to solidify their partnership. It appears that Boeing is the majority shareholder in the new company, but neither party will confirm details the ownership structure. It will focus entirely on developing the two-seat Cora, which is expected to fly on routes up to around 60 miles and at speeds of approximately 112 mph. 

To date, Kitty Hawk has published very few details about the aircraft's projected performance and specifications. After starting test flights in 2017, as off May 7, 2020, it has conducted more than 1,200 test flights with four prototypes, mainly in New Zealand where Wisk has a subsidiary company. No timeline for type certification has been published. Following some disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Wisk hoped to resume test flights by the end of May. 

In October 2019, the New Zealand government announced an Airspace Integration Trial to demonstrate how unmanned aircraft can be safely operated in unmanned airspace and it has now selected Wisk as the first industry partner for this program. The program is being managed by the country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment in conjunction with the CAA and the Ministry of Transport.

On February 4, 2020, the New Zealand government and Wisk signed a memorandum of understanding for Cora to conduct autonomous passenger-carrying trial flights in the Canterbury region. Officials have not yet said when the first passenger-carrying flights will be made or how passengers will be chosen. However, it is contingent on the Cora completing type certification by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

Wisk New Zealand (formerly Zephyr Airworks) is working with the country’s Ngai Tahu Maori tribe to support science and technology education initiatives as part of a wider community engagement process. The company also is partnered with flag-carrier Air New Zealand.

On June 10, 2020, Wisk said it had resumed flight testing in New Zealand and California following disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As of November 2020, the four prototype aircraft had logged a total of just over 1,400 test flights. In the next phase of flight testing, the company's engineering team will focus on issues such as incorporating lightning strike protection.

FAA officials have had discussions with their counterparts at the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand to agree on procedures that will allow them to observe certification work on the Cora aircraft and to share data.

With the FAA's version 1.0 release of their UAM Concept of Operations (ConOps), Wisk stated that they intend to play a part, along with the many other UAM-oriented companies who are impacted, on reviewing the preliminary plan from the FAA to eventually see it further refined. The early July ConOps marks a step forward for the UAM industry in eventually integrating their services into the U.S. airspace system.

On November 16, 2020, the company announced its addition to NASA's Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. Wisk, along with 18 other UAM companies, will prepare for the first phase of NASA's program dubbed the "Grand Challenge" trials in 2022, which aim to assess operational safety scenarios (primarily collision avoidance and flight path management) of future air mobility services. NASA hopes to also address various barriers related to the development and certification of automated aviation standards.

In late March 2021, Wisk set the second half of 2021 to begin “transport trials” for the Cora in New Zealand. The trials, which are supported by the government’s Airspace Integration Trial Programme, include demonstration flights which aim to safely evaluate the role of unmanned aircrafts in existing airspace.

In January 2022, Boeing invested $450 million into Wisk Aero eVTOL. The funding is set to help certify Wisk’s sixth-generation eVTOL which is set to replace the fifth-generation Cora prototype. 

In February 2022, Wisk, which intends to offer air taxi services with its Cora eVTOL design, partnered with the city of Long Beach, California, to include advanced air mobility in the city’s future public transportation.

In April 2022, ground infrastructure and drone operations company Skyports began a partnership with Wisk to further pursue its plans for autonomous eVTOL air transport services. 

Following the unveiling of the sixth-generation eVTOL design in October 2022, Wisk Aero subsequently announced that Boeing executive Brian Yutko as the successor to Gary Gysin as the company's CEO. 

Timeline

partnership

There are no confirmed details as to how much money Boeing may have invested in to the new Wisk joint venture, which will now progress the development of the Cora eVTOL aircraft with Kitty Hawk. However, it seems clear that Boeing is the majority owner of the new company.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

At face value, Kitty Hawk's decision in June 2019 to launch a strategic partnership with Boeing NeXt seemed surprising. Privately-owned Kitty Hawk appeared to be well-funded by its main backers Ilan Kroo, Sebastian Thrun and Google founder Larry Page. Development work appears to have been proceeding well, although no clear timeline for taking the aircraft to market has been declared. 

The formation of the new Wisk joint venture makes it clear that Cora is now a priority project for Boeing. It seems a fair assumption that Boeing has made some fresh investment in the venture, although neither party would confirm this to FutureFlight

One explanation for Boeing NeXt's interest in Cora might be the apparent difficulties its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences may be having with its Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) eVTOL development. The prototype aircraft crashed on its fifth test flight on June 2, 2019. In November, Aurora indicated that it will resume PAV flight testing early in 2020. It could be that Boeing NeXt wants to hedge its bets by pursuing an alternative eVTOL program. Superficially, the two aircraft would appear to have fairly similar characteristics in terms of their operational profiles. That said, Aurora remains one of six partners selected by Uber as prospective aircraft providers for its planned Uber Air ride-share program. 

Meanwhile, in October 2019, Boeing announced an alliance with sports car maker Porsche to work together on plans for a luxury eVTOL design. Clearly, this sector is a priority for the U.S. aerospace group.

The support of the New Zealand government for planned passenger-carrying flight trials also is a significant breakthrough.

However, Boeing's announcement in September 2020 that it is shutting down its Boeing NeXt advanced technology incubator raises questions about its long-term commitment to the advanced air mobility sector. The aerospace group has indicated that it intends to maintain its holding in Wisk.

By mid-2022, it appeared that Wisk may be getting closer to confirming its longer-term plans for bringing a larger-scale eVTOL aircraft to market. The company has long suggested that it has what it describes as a sixth-generation design secretly in the works and this is expected to offer a greater payload than Cora. A key question over the company's business model is whether it can hold out until aviation regulators are ready to approve commercial autonomous passenger flights before revenues begin to flow. 

The long-awaited unveiling of Wisk's sixth-generation eVTOL aircraft design in October 2022 boosted the company's credentials after years when it had largely left it to rivals like Archer and Joby to enjoy the limelight. Its insistence on only taking the aircraft to market when autonomous flight operations are approved could seem dogmatic to some pragmatists, but the company is convinced this is the only business model that makes sense. From February 2022, this business model was to be advanced by Wisk's newly appointed CEO Brian Yutko, a former Boeing executive appointed to replace Gary Gysin who is retiring.

Wisk Models

Wisk Specifications

autonomous vtol Lift + Cruise

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    4
  • Range
    90 mi
  • Cruise Speed
    138 mph
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
    electric
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    3,000 ft
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    n/a

Dimensions

  • Length
    n/a
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    n/a

Building on more than a decade of work with a two-seat technology demonstrator called Cora, Wisk has now made it clear that its actual production aircraft will be a four-seat model that it unveiled in October 2022 as its sixth-generation design. The company has yet to publish a specific timeline for service entry, in part because it cannot say when regulators will be ready to approve the autonomous operations on which is business plan is founded.

Key Personnel

Gary Gysin
Gary Gysin

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)