EDWARDS AFB – NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center recently completed a series of flight tests using a small plane that can take off and land vertically, much like a helicopter, as part of a program to integrate such an aircraft into an urban environment.
These test flights and the flight demonstrations that will follow as part of NASA’s National Advanced Air Mobility Campaign, will help develop the necessary framework to enable services such as air taxis and drone deliveries, among others. .
“The Joby tests went very well,” said Starr Ginn, National Advanced Air Mobility Campaign Manager.
The flight test program used Joby Aviation’s all-electric aircraft, a prototype air taxi, and performed the tests at the company’s flight base near Big Sur. It was the first time that NASA used an electric plane for this campaign.
Over a dozen flights over two weeks, the agency collected data on the aircraft’s operational performance to help understand how it used energy during each type of maneuver, from climb to diversion. and more.
To accomplish this, the aircraft was subjected to the rhythm of typical operational flights, with contingencies of having to abort a landing and retry, change altitude to work in congested airspace, and stroll through a landing site before to land.
The data gathered during these tests will help inform Federal Aviation Administration regulations, such as the amount of battery power these devices must hold in reserve for these types of contingencies, Ginn said.
Part of the goal of the national campaign is to identify these types of loopholes in current FAA regulations when applied to this emerging form of air travel, which involves manned and unmanned aircraft, working in a urban environment over short distances and without traditional air traffic control. to coordinate.
The tests were also used to gather information about the noise levels present when these types of aircraft are operating. This involved flying the Joby plane over a set of microphones in the various phases of flight – takeoff, landing, acceleration and deceleration, climb and hover.
The majority of the flight tests were these acoustic tests, Ginn said.
The flight tests for this project are different from most tests conducted by NASA Armstrong, in that they do not test the vehicle itself, she said.
The development flight tests have enabled NASA to build the flight test infrastructure that will be deployed in future flight demonstrations for the national campaign. This includes integrating the entire “ecosystem” of the vehicles themselves and the airspace infrastructure.
“It’s really exciting to do this new kind of flight test. Instead of testing the aircraft, we are testing the system of systems, ”Ginn said.
It was also an opportunity to test the ability of the unique microphone array to collect acoustic data for the quietest electric aircraft. The team at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia typically studies helicopter noise, Ginn said.
“They had to explore how this network would work” for future flight demonstrations, she said.
This test development phase of the project was also aimed at understanding industry readiness to deploy these types of aircraft, Ginn said.
When NASA called for proposals for flight tests in December 2019, “none of them were as mature as Joby,” she said, so it was the only plane the agency had. used for this phase.
Data collected during these development flight tests will inform the first national campaign tests scheduled for next year.