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Wisk unveils autonomous air taxi

Prototype to be tested for FAA certification

Wisk brings its commitment of self-flying-first to its all-new, completely autonomous 6th Generation air taxi—the aircraft that Wisk says will set the standard for the air taxi market and the future of air travel.

  • Wisk Aero's Generation 6 aircraft at Wisk headquarters in Mountain View, California. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • Front view of the Wisk Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • The Wisk Generation 6 aircraft is designed to carry up to four passengers. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • The interior features Wi-Fi, phone charging, and large infotainment screens. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • An interior view of Wisk Aero's Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • The Generation 6 aircraft offers an expansive view outside. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • Rear view of Wisk Aero's Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • Front tilting propellers on Wisk's Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • Side view of Wisk Aero’s Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.
  • Tail section of Wisk Aero’s Generation 6 aircraft. Photo by Niki Britton.

Wisk began developing aircraft in 2010 and later merged with recently shuttered air-taxi company Kittyhawk. In 2019 Boeing Co. and Kittyhawk re-formed Wisk as a joint venture to support their development of unmanned aerial taxis. In that time, the company has developed and flown five generations of aircraft and completed over 1,600 successful test flights.

The company just unveiled its sixth-generation prototype, the first proclaimed to be a candidate for (the unprecedented) FAA type certification of an autonomous, passenger-carrying eVTOL.

“In 2010, we set out to find a way to skip traffic and get to our destination faster,” Gary Gysin, CEO of Wisk, said in a press release. “Our 6th Generation aircraft is the culmination of years of hard work from our industry-leading team, learnings from our previous generations of aircraft, commitment from our investors, and the evolution and advancement of technology.”

“We’re in a great position with having The Boeing Company be not only an investor, but a strategic partner of ours,” Becky Tanner, chief marketing officer at Wisk, told AOPA. “We get access to their 100 years of history of certifying aircraft. They’ve been working on autonomous systems for a really long time, and we get to leverage that experience. But most importantly we’re partnered on building the sixth-generation aircraft. Their great engineering talent is supplementing the Wisk team and we have over 120 people form the Boeing team working with us on this program.”

The latest design can carry four passengers with small carry-on luggage in the main cabin, as well as larger bags that can be stowed in the front trunk. The company reports that the new aircraft will have a cruising speed of 120 knots, will feature a 90-mile range with reserves, and will fly at an altitude between 2,500 and 4,000 feet. The aircraft is all-electric and is powered by Wisk’s proprietary 12-propeller design and boom configuration. The motors mounted in front of the wing tilt to transition from vertical to forward flight and can continue flying with the loss of up to two of those propellers with no impact to passenger safety.

The aircraft was designed with an almost automotive interior aesthetic. The seats are comfortable; the view is expansive; and with features like Wi-Fi, phone charging, and large infotainment screens, it gives off a high-end, ride-sharing-service vibe. Generation 6 is also designed to accommodate those with physical disabilities like hearing and mobility challenges. Wisk has expressed the desire to be a service for everyone, targeting a service price of $3 per passenger, per mile.

Wisk’s plans to adapt many of the same automated pilot functions used in commercial aviation combined with proprietary software, detect-and-avoid technology, and what the company is calling multi-vehicle supervisors who will provide human oversight of every flight and the ability to intervene if necessary.

The engineers working behind the scenes are committed to the safety and success of the program. “I feel like I’m working on the next program to go to the moon,” Sebastian Vigneron, senior vice president of engineering and programs at Wisk, told AOPA in an interview. “We are designing to a failure rate of 10-9 , which is the highest safety standard of today’s commercial aviation…we also are designing all of our systems so that there is a high level of redundancy, so we can hit that safety target.”,

Jonathan Lovegren, the head of autonomy at Wisk, said, “When we talk about autonomy, of course what we really mean is that we are taking the pilot out of the aircraft, but there is still an operator involved in the system, that operator is on the ground instead of in the cockpit.”

Contingency management, the ability to react and take the proper course of action when something goes wrong, is also being built into the aircraft’s autonomy system. Many of the flight planning functions, which a pilot would normally do before flight like checking weather, flight routing, filing the flight plan, and scheduling of aircraft, will be performed by the system with the support of the ground operator. “It’s a combination of both software on the ground and in the aircraft, with additional sensing capabilities and situation awareness that allows us to perform that higher automated flight,” Lovegren explained.

Wisk declined to share any specifics about its detect-and-avoid system; however, Lovegren said that Wisk is following many of the standards currently set for aircraft collision avoidance systems so that the company’s detect-and-avoid system will be compatible with the latest technologies.

The new prototype has yet to take its first flight, but the company hopes with this design, and its recently released concept of operations, it will be able to bring safety, affordability, and convenience to the emerging world of advanced air mobility.

Niki Britton

eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.
Topics: Advanced Air Mobility

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