‘Electric Air Taxis’ To Begin Testing at Edwards AFB By March ’24

“Electric air taxis” are coming to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., early next year. The Air Force and Joby Aviation announced a deal April 25 through USAF’s Agility Prime program for rapid acquisition. 

Air Force pilots took command of a Joby electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for the first time earlier this week, remotely piloting the five-seat airframe through its full flight envelope at the company’s Marina, Calif., facility. 

The experience was the first step in USAF’s commitment to receive by March 2024 two aircraft and to begin testing them at Edwards, the first time Agility Prime has been used to acquire an aircraft.

Releases from both the Air Force Research Laboratory and Joby Aviation noted the contract extension—now valued at up to $131 million—includes options for up to nine aircraft. An AFRL spokesman told Air & Space Forces Magazine those aircraft could be delivered to other government agencies and no locations besides Edwards for the first two have been decided on. 

Joby’s aircraft has five seats, but none of the testing so far, including the Air Force-controlled flights, included passengers. An AFRL spokesman said there are future plans to have pilots and passengers on board the aircraft at Edwards. 

At Edwards, the Air Force will work with both Joby and NASA as part of a larger effort to develop Advanced Air Mobility. The AFRL spokesman said the organizations will work on the infrastructure necessary to maintain and operate electric aircraft. The Air Force in particular will study the aircraft’s potential use for “short-to-mid range cargo operations at low operating costs and just-in-time delivery constructs,” the spokesman said. 

Additionally, the aircraft could support operations at Edwards’ test ranges, transporting personnel around the 470-square mile base, the spokesman said. 

Electric vertical takeoff and landing could be of interest to the Air Force as it looks to reduce its carbon emissions and ensure it can deliver vital equipment and material through the “last tactical mile.” 

The Air Force has been pursuing Agility Prime under its AFWERX innovation arm since April 2020. In that time, the service has awarded hundreds of contracts to stimulate development in the eVTOL industry, which has seen intense commercial and government interest as of late. 

Joby has been involved in the program for years now, and in 2022, the company scored a high-altitude mark of more than 11,000 feet and a speed of more than 200 miles per hour. It is looking to start a commercial “air taxi” service starting in 2025.

Heading into 2023, Lt. Col. Thomas Meagher, AFWERX Prime division chief, told Air & Space Forces Magazine his focus was on getting more of the aircraft into the hands of Air Force testers and incorporated into exercises when possible. 

The Joby S4 is a five-seat electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. AFWERX Agility Prime announced April 25, 2023, that it has entered into a third extension of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase III contract with Joby. The extension enables options for Joby to deliver up to nine of its low acoustic signature, zero-operating emissions S4 aircraft to the Air Force and other government partners. The first two Joby aircraft will be delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., before March 2024. Courtesy photo