Autonomous eVTOL developer Wisk Aero today publicly revealed its new sixth-generation aircraft. The company's unpiloted Generation 6 aircraft is designed to carry passengers up to 90 miles, flying at a cruise speed of 120 knots and an altitude between 2,500 feet and 4,000 feet.
The aircraft features 12 propellers, six of which can tilt, which allows the aircraft to take off and land vertically. During cruise, the aircraft transitions to wingborne horizontal flight. Wisk says its batteries will take just 15 minutes to fully recharge.
The California-based company has already flown more than 1,600 test flights with earlier technology demonstrators, mostly with its fifth-generation model called Cora, which Wisk will continue to fly for research and development purposes while working to certify the Gen 6 aircraft. It has not said when it intends to start flying the first examples of its planned production aircraft, and also has not announced a name for it.
“We're introducing the most technically advanced aircraft and system in this marketplace,” Wisk CEO Gary Gysin told reporters last month during an exclusive preview of the new Gen 6 aircraft. “We think this is going to change transportation.”
From Cora to Gen 6: Design Changes
Wisk’s Gen 6 aircraft features several design upgrades from its two-seat Cora aircraft. In addition to a more spacious cabin designed to comfortably accommodate twice as many passengers, the Gen 6 also features a raised wing and a longer wingspan of 50 feet, compared to Cora’s 36-foot wing.
“By raising the wing, we've increased the aircraft's stability, and that brings more passenger comfort,” said Wisk senior vice president Sebastien Vigneron. “By extending the booms, we've moved the propellers away from the passenger, which improves safety both off the ground and in the air. We've also introduced a new propeller design to improve performance and reduce noise.”
The tail of the Gen 6 aircraft has also been redesigned. While Cora has a boxy, twin-boom tail, the Gen 6 features a simpler cross tail. This reduces the aircraft’s weight and optimizes the location of its center of gravity, which leads to better range and overall performance, Vigneron said.
“We've put a ton of focus on … reducing the number of moving parts because fewer moving parts means fewer points of failure, less wear and tear, more robustness, more reliability, less maintenance, more availability, and ultimately better safety,” Vigneron said.
Wisk’s Air Taxis Flies Autonomously
Rather than have pilots on board controlling the aircraft, all flight operations will be conducted autonomously with the help of multi-vehicle operators, who will monitor up to three simultaneous flights from a fleet operations center on the ground. In case of an emergency, passengers can press a button inside the aircraft to be connected with remote hospitality personnel. If necessary, a multi-vehicle operator can remotely command the aircraft to divert or land early.
Wisk’s head of autonomy, Jonathan Lovegren, told FutureFlight that because all flight routes will be predetermined, the aircraft doesn’t rely on artificial intelligence to fly and navigate. In other words, the aircraft will be programmed to operate under predictable circumstances and to deal with all scenarios and contingencies without having to do any real-time problem-solving using artificial intelligence. Any and all decisions the aircraft makes will be the result of pre-programmed algorithms.
“Ninety-three percent of the functions on a commercial airliner today are actually performed by a computer, and so autonomy for us is really about taking that a step further,” Lovegren said. “We're starting with those same proven existing technologies—like navigation systems, autopilots, and flight management systems that enable today's commercial flight—and we're adding to that proprietary decision-making logic and algorithms and additional sensing capabilities to create an even more automated system with predictable deterministic outcomes.”
To provide the most optimal customer experience, Wisk has and will continue to conduct in-depth consumer research studies. “We put potential fliers through an ever-evolving lineup of mockups and simulators, both real life and in [virtual reality],’ said Uri Tzarnotzky, director of product design at Wisk. “This approach helps to keep the voice of the customer at the heart of our engineering traits and decisions.”
The aircraft is designed to be accessible for people with disabilities, with room to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. On each passenger’s personal display screen, safety instructions are offered in multiple languages, including American Sign Language. On-screen text can also be enlarged or bolded for easier reading, and the colors of the display are amenable to most forms of colorblindness, Tzarnotzky said.
Each seat on the Gen 6 has enough headroom and legroom to comfortably fit passengers as tall as about 6 feet 4 inches (2 meters). Tzarnotzky added that Wisk won’t implement a height limit for its passengers, so taller people can still fly on the Gen 6, albeit a little less comfortably. The company will require passengers to self-report their weight and that of their luggage before boarding the aircraft. Larger luggage items will be stored in what the Wisk team calls the “frunk”—a trunk located in the front of the aircraft—while smaller carry-on items, such as backpacks and purses, can be stored safely inside the cabin.
To further enhance the customer experience, Wisk’s aircraft will provide free on-board wifi, multiple charging ports and even wireless charging pads for smartphones. Using the personal touch-screen displays, each passenger can also control some aspects of the cabin’s environment, such as the temperature and lighting. The display will also provide real-time flight information and a map, much like the flight tracking screens provided on many of today’s commercial planes.
Path to Operations
Wisk may be ahead of the pack when it comes to certifying a fully autonomous eVTOL air taxi, but it likely won’t be the first eVTOL air taxi provider to begin operations. That’s because the autonomous nature of the aircraft makes it more complicated to certify than other eVTOLs that have pilots on board.
While other eVTOL air taxi developers aim to have their piloted fleets up and running from 2024, Wisk’s autonomous aircraft could take several years longer to get certified for commercial operations. The company has not yet announced a timeframe in which it aims to have its self-flying air taxis certified, and Gysin declined to say when the Gen 6 might make attempt its first flight tests.
“This aircraft will be the first-ever candidate for certification of an all electric self-flying, four-seat, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and we've already made good progress with the FAA,” Vigneron said. He added that Wisk has submitted its G-1 certification basis to the FAA earlier this year, and that Wisk is “heavily engaged” with the FAA on its G-2 issue paper.
Last month, Wisk and its primary investor Boeing jointly published a concept of operations. This document spells out a path to introducing uncrewed urban air mobility services in the context of the U.S. National Airspace System.
Wisk Aero was founded in 2019 as a joint venture between Boeing and Google co-founder Larry Page's Kittyhawk, an eVTOL aircraft innovator that recently announced its intent to “wind down” its operations. A Wisk spokesman told FutureFlight that Kittyhawk’s closing will not impact Wisk.
Although Wisk itself is only about three years old, the company’s autonomous eVTOL technologies have been under development for more than a decade, dating back to 2011, when a company called Zee Aero flew its first-generation eVTOL technology demonstrator. Zee Aero merged with Kittyhawk in 2018, four years after Zee’s first prototype successfully demonstrated a transition from hover to wingborne flight.
Shortly after the merger, Boeing got involved, and the company has since become Wisk’s biggest investor. Wisk has not revealed exactly how much funding it has raised so far from Boeing and other sources, but earlier this year Boeing announced a $450 million investment in Wisk.