The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Joby's Second eVTOL Prototype Restarts Flight Testing After Accident

Joby Aviation’s second preproduction eVTOL prototype has resumed flight testing five weeks after an accident on February 16 in which the first of the full-scale aircraft was badly damaged. On Thursday, the company confirmed that its internal safety review board lifted a pause in flight testing earlier this week.

The second aircraft made its first flight in January after both the FAA and the U.S. Air Force issued airworthiness approvals for the all-electric, four-passenger model. At the time, Joby said it intended to use it primarily for flight testing as part of a contract under the Air Force’s Agility Prime program to evaluate eVTOL aircraft for possible military missions. In its March 24 announcement, Joby indicated that it will now mainly be used for flight testing as part of efforts to complete FAA type certification.

The company said that it remains on track to begin commercial eVTOL ride-hailing services in 2024. The next aircraft it builds will be a production prototype and this will be made at its new pilot production line in Marina, California.

The company confirmed that it is continuing to work with both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the accident, which happened in an unpopulated rural area near Jolon in California’s Monterey county. There was no pilot onboard the flight and no injuries resulting from the crash.

During a briefing for investors to announce financial results for the fourth quarter of 2021, Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt explained that the accident happened during flight envelope expansion trials that involved evaluating performance well beyond what is projected for commercial operations. His comments confirmed reports that the first prototype had been flying at exceptionally high speeds at the time of the accident.

"During FAA flight testing, we are required to demonstrate speeds that are substantially above the never exceed speed of the aircraft," Bevirt explained. "A speed that is already above the nominal operating speed. In other words, far beyond what the aircraft would ever do during day-to-day operation. During an envelope expansion campaign, we steadily increase the demands on the aircraft to understand if, when, and how failures occur so that we can mitigate them."

Along with federal investigators, Joby's engineering team are now reviewing gigabytes of high definition data and film from the February 16 flight and comparing it to other data gathered during the flight test campaign. "At this stage, we do not expect this accident to have a meaningful impact on our business operation and certification timing," Bevirt concluded.

Since January, the second has logged 38 flights, reaching speeds of over 90 miles per hour. In 2021, the first prototype, which has logged speeds of well over the planned 200 mph cruise speed, flew more than 5,300 miles, generating 65 terabytes of flight test data and flying just under 155 on a single electric charge.

“We’re excited to be back in the air with our second preproduction prototype aircraft, building on the tremendous flight test achievements our team has made to date,” said Didier Papadopoulos, Joby’s head of programs and systems. 

During the investors' briefing, he added that the FAA's has now accepted almost 70 percent of the means of compliance associated with its type certification process. He explained that the second prototype will now mainly be used for ground tests, hovering, takeoffs, landings, and transitions.

At the end of the fourth quarter, Joby had $1.3 billion in cash and short-term investments that founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt said, "should be sufficient to support us through to commercialization." With income of $5 million during the quarter, the company reported an operating loss of $77.2 million but this was offset by other income amounting to $71.7 million and also by a $10.5 million tax benefit resulting from an accounting adjustment for Joby's purchase of Uber Elevate. 

This story was updated on March 25 to add information from an investors' briefing conducted later on March 24.