On Oct. 3, Wisk Aero unveiled a full-scale model of its sixth-generation electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The Mountain View, California-based eVTOL developer intends to submit the design for type certification with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), paving the way for future passenger-carrying flights.
Wisk’s Generation 6 eVTOL is the product of a dozen years of work on eVTOL aircraft. The first generation was the Zee.aero full-scale, proof-of-concept air vehicle that made more than 200 test flights between 2011 and 2014. The Generation 6 is the direct successor to the Cora — the name for the Wisk’s fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft — which has served as the company’s demonstrator since 2017, when the program was still part of Kitty Hawk Corporation (see “Meet Cora: Kitty Hawk Unveils 2-Seat eVTOL,” Vertiflite, May/June 2018).
With backing from Boeing, the Cora program spun off from Kitty Hawk in 2019 as Wisk, forging an independent path towards realizing its advanced air mobility (AAM) vision. Boeing’s support — in January, Boeing pledged an additional $450M to the eVTOL developer — has been crucial to Wisk’s progress, allowing it to continue even as Kitty Hawk closes the book on its eVTOL aspirations (see sidebar, “Kittyhawk Winding Down”).
“Over the past 12 years, we’ve pursued that mission through the development of five different generations of full-scale aircraft,” said CEO Gary Gysin in a statement. “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.”
According to Wisk, the as-yet-unnamed Generation 6 eVTOL has a range of 90 miles (144 km) with reserves, and a cruising speed of 120 kt (225 km/h). The aircraft flies at an altitude of 2,500–4,000 ft (760–1,220 m) above ground level.
Displayed with the company’s standout yellow livery, Generation 6 retains some design characteristics of its predecessor. Like the Cora, Generation 6 is powered by 12 lifting propellers. But instead of a 13th pusher propeller on Cora, the Generation 6 is fitted with six, five-bladed propellers located on the front edge of the wing that tilt forward for horizontal flight. The remaining six propellers — located on the rear edge of the wing — are fixed for vertical lift and have increased from two to four blades.
The new propeller designs are meant to improve the aircraft’s range and control. Wisk has also replaced the 36-ft (11-m) mid-mounted wing on the Cora with a 50-ft (15-m) high-mounted wing. In photos released by the company, Generation 6 is fitted with skid landing gear, rather than the tricycle configuration on the Cora.
The greatest change from the Cora is the cabin size, which has increased from a capacity of two seats to four in Generation 6. The larger cabin will be outfitted with passenger comforts such as Wi-Fi and charging, and capable of transporting baggage and carry-on items. Wisk said that it has paid particular attention to accessibility in designing the cabin, with an eye to accommodating individuals with disabilities.
The Generation 6 is designed to operate autonomously by flying preprogrammed routes, a key feature of the Wisk approach to AAM vehicles. Instead of pilots onboard the aircraft, Wisk will deploy “multi-vehicle supervisors” who will remotely supervise each flight from a ground station and intervene in the operation if necessary. To enable this approach, Wisk said that it has leveraged the same automation that exists in commercial aircraft (e.g., Boeing’s), while adding propriety algorithms and sensing capabilities such as detect-and-avoid technology.
According to Wisk, its decision to adopt a self-flying eVTOL strategy from the outset sets it apart from other eVTOL developers, most of which it said are choosing to certify a piloted eVTOL before integrated autonomous flying at some point in the future. While integrating this approach could add to its timeline for certification and market entry, Wisk is confident that it is the key to “unlocking the scale and the full potential for the broader AAM industry.”
Chris Brown, External Communications Lead at Wisk, told Vertiflite that the company has begun sub-scale testing of its Generation 6 aircraft, including ground and flight tests, as well as component and system evaluations. Wisk has so far declined to say when flight testing of a full-scale prototype Generation 6 is expected begin. The company has conducted more than 1,600 test flights to date with its earlier generation aircraft, mostly with its Cora demonstrators, primarily at the company’s flight test centers in Hollister, California, and Canterbury, New Zealand.
The unveiling of the Generation 6 in Hollister comes as Wisk has moved to detail its vision for integrating AAM missions into communities worldwide. On Sept. 20, Wisk and Boeing jointly unveiled a concept of operations for passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft. The report identifies recommendations for regulatory and social policies, and encourages investments into areas such as the air traffic management system, as well as technologies such as trajectory-based flight plans and vertiport automation systems.
At the same time, Wisk has sought to expand its global presence. Wisk has had a longstanding relationship with the government of New Zealand, where the company has conducted flight testing for the past two years. In June, Wisk launched a collaboration with the Australian state of Queensland, and in August, Wisk established an engineering hub dedicated to working on the Generation 6 in Montreal, Canada.
As it prepares to ramp up testing of its go-to-market eVTOL aircraft, Wisk has sought to solidify its position in a changing — and increasingly competitive — eVTOL marketplace. With its Generation 6 aircraft, Wisk is one step closer to making its vision for affordable and accessible AAM transportation a reality.
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