AutoFlight is claiming a world record for the longest flight by an eVTOL aircraft on a single electric charge. On March 2, the company reported that its latest Generation 4 prototype has flown 250.3 kilometers (156.4 miles), which is three kilometers longer than the distance covered by Joby Aviation’s prototype during a test flight in July 2021.
The Generation 4 flight took place at AutoFlight’s development site at Augsburg in southern Germany on February 23. The latest prototype of the China-based group’s four-seat Prosperity I design was remotely piloted as it completed 20 circuits of a predefined flight track.
Back in July 2021, Joby flew its prototype 154.6 miles (247.36 kilometers), taking one hour and 17 minutes to complete 11 laps of a predefined circuit. It conducted that flight at the company’s Electric Flight Base in Big Sur, California.
According to AutoFlight, to accurately track the distance flown by the Prosperty I aircraft, it installed two additional avionics systems provided by ForeFlight and Stratus GPS to run in tandem with its own cockpit suite. The company said it considers the flight a key milestone in its efforts to achieve EASA type certification in 2025 and to prove the aircraft’s ability to operate commercially on sectors of up to 250 kilometers and at speeds above 200 km/h.
Multiple Transition Flights Achieved
During previous flight tests in China with earlier versions of the eVTOL design, AutoFlight says, it conducted hundreds of full transitions from vertical lift to horizontal cruise. Relatively few full-scale lift-and-cruise eVTOL prototypes have achieved this critical maneuver so far.
Design work for the Generation 4 aircraft has been led by automotive designer Frank Stephenson, who is known for his work on car brands such as Ferrari, Maserati, McLaren, and Mini. AutoFlight intends to manufacture the all-electric eVTOL vehicle in China at a unit price of around $150,000, which it says is far less than Western-made competitors' products would cost.
In October 2022, AutoFlight appointed a new U.S.-based leadership team to achieve its objective of having the aircraft certified and ready to start commercial services in 2026. The company appointed Eviation Aircraft’s founder and former CEO, Omer Bar-Yohay, as its president. It also named Joby Aviation’s former head of business development, Chad Cashin, as its chief commercial officer.
“This flight is both a great celebratory milestone and a testament to the team’s incredible effort and progress in testing and incrementally pushing the aircraft’s performance envelope,” Bar-Yohay commented. “It’s a remarkable achievement that shows our aircraft’s capability, and we are excited to continue working towards our next goals all the way to EASA certification in 2025.”
At a U.S. base now under development at Napa County Airport in California, AutoFlight intends to expand the flight envelope for the current version of the Prosperity model later this year. The company’s expanded U.S. subsidiary is working alongside the design organization it established earlier last year in Augsburg and its manufacturing hub near Shanghai.
Cashin told FutureFlight that the company may soon exploit opportunities to conduct additional flight tests in other locations. He said that it already has the manufacturing capacity to build 10 or more of the Generation 4 aircraft annually.
The Prosperity I design is not yet frozen and the aircraft being used for flight tests is not a conforming prototype. “There’s only so much one can learn from computer models for their aircraft and the key to any successful certification effort is flying the aircraft,” Cashin said. “AutoFlight is taking learnings from this generation of aircraft and quickly progressing towards the conforming prototype stage.”
This story was updated on March 2 to amend the reported flight duration of the AutoFlight prototype aircraft to 250.3 km.