The U.S. Air Force has awarded the EV technology startup Joby Aviation a contract to deliver nine Electric Air Taxi Electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
According to a press release from Joby, as part of the agreement, the company will deliver and operate up to nine of its five-seat, low-noise, zero-operating emissions aircraft, providing the Air Force and other federal agencies with firsthand experience of the performance of Joby’s aircraft and its potential applications.
The first two aircraft are expected to be delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, by early 2024, and will be used to demonstrate a range of potential logistics use cases, including cargo and passenger transportation. In doing so, they are expected to become the first electric air taxis to be stationed at a U.S. military base.
The announcement comes days after four Air Force pilots, hosted by Joby at its manufacturing facility in Marina, California, became the first Air Force personnel to fly an eVTOL as sole pilot-in-command through the full flight envelope, including transition from vertical to wingborne flight. The flights, which were piloted remotely from the ground, came following completion of classroom-based and simulator training and are part of the Air Force’s comprehensive approach to studying eVTOL aircraft and their potential future role.
“The Agility Prime program is a remarkably successful example of how public-private partnerships can deliver trailblazing technology at speed,” said JoeBen Bevirt, Founder and CEO of Joby. “We’re grateful for the support of the program and for the U.S. government’s wider commitment to global leadership in this important new sector.
“As well as allowing us to explore the wide range of potential use cases across the U.S. government, our defense partners have also provided us with high-impact support as we prepare for commercial operations in 2025,” he added.
“This next step of getting Air Force pilots trained and operating Joby aircraft at an Air Force installation is an incredibly important milestone for the program, providing key insights to actual operations and use case validation for Advanced Air Mobility aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Tom Meagher, AFWERX Prime Lead. “Additionally, the Joby operations provide an outstanding opportunity for accelerated learning with the other Department of Defense services and government agencies, including NASA and the FAA.”
Edwards Air Force Base is the second largest base in the Air Force and has been the site of hundreds of significant aviation “firsts.” It’s where Capt. Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 first broke the sound barrier on Oct. 14, 1947, the X-15 became the first winged aircraft to fly Mach 4, 5 and 6 and the space shuttle first landed on its initial return from earth’s orbit.
“We’re honored to continue the tradition of accelerating emerging aviation technology as we become the first base to exercise electric air taxis as they are intended to be used in commercial operations,” said Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force commander. “This opportunity will allow us first-hand experience with Joby’s revolutionary aircraft as we prepare to test this next generation of advanced air mobility,” he added.
In February, dozens of bipartisan Members of Congress joined together to issue a letter to the Department of Transportation, calling for stronger U.S. leadership in AAM, while in March, the White House signaled its support for AAM and clean aviation, identifying them as top priorities in its National Aeronautics Science & Technology Priorities brief.
Joby’s partnership with the Department of Defense began more than five years ago and provides the company with access to testing facilities, early operational experience for government customers, as well as a partial offset to its research and development costs. Since the Agility Prime program was established in 2020, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have all expressed active interest in the capabilities of eVTOL aircraft, with Joby announcing in August 2022 that the Marine Corps would participate in government-directed flight tests and use case exploration, including resupply, personnel transport, and emergency medical response applications.