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Boeing’s electric autonomous passenger air vehicle just had its first flight

January 24, 2019

Boeing has completed the first pilotless test flight of its electric autonomous passenger plane at an airport in Manassas, Virginia.

What happened: The 30-foot-long plane took off vertically and hovered for less than a minute. The purpose was to test its autonomous functions and ground control systems, Boeing said. It’s designed to have a range of up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) and is intended to be for short journeys across cities. The biggest innovation is its electric propulsion system, as there are no electric-powered aircraft in commercial use right now.

Not a flying car: It’s a popular moniker, but misleading. This won’t be able to go from driving on roads to flying. It resembles a mix of helicopter and propeller aircraft, but no one seems quite sure what to call it yet. “Passenger air vehicle” just doesn’t quite have enough of a ring to it.

Next steps: Boeing said future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight, plus the transition between vertical and forward-flight modes. It admitted this will be a “significant engineering challenge.” It’s one of several companies, including Airbus and Uber, working on autonomous flying. It’s not quite clear who the target market is yet, though, beyond the uber-wealthy.

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