eVTOL Insights’ Executive Editor Jason Pritchard was one of just a handful of journalists who attended a reveal event for Wisk’s Gen 6 eVTOL aircraft in California last month.
He heard from some of Wisk’s Leadership team on the work leading up to Gen 6 and how it helped shape the aircraft into the model the company intends to certify and bring to market. With the press embargo now lifted, below are his thoughts on what was a busy, but productive couple of days.
As soon as the moment arrived and the curtain swept down to reveal Gen 6, I thought the aircraft looked great. Considering I have only ever written about Gen 5, affectionately known as Cora, the increase in size was seriously impressive. Those in attendance were able to get up close and even sit inside the aircraft, which has more than enough space to provide a pleasant travelling experience for the four passengers on board.
A quick test proved the baggage compartment easily fitted my large backpack, and my smartphone fitted comfortably on the main shelf in front of me. Cup holders were also placed on this shelf, with their final location within the aircraft apparently being a source of constant debate during construction!
What really impressed me though was that Wisk has done its homework when it comes to building an aircraft that is accessible to all. It has taken an approach in that it will ‘show, not tell’; it won’t share any news unless it is groundbreaking to the company and what it believes to be absolutely true. And what Wisk has shown to me with Gen 6 is that it hasn’t left any stone unturned.
It’s always great to be invited to any reveal event such as this, but I was super excited when I was given the opportunity to be one of the first journalists in the Advanced Air Mobility space to see Wisk’s Gen 6 aircraft – the one it plans to certify and put into commercial use for the general public across the world.
A 30-minute coach ride from San Jose, California – which allowed me to get introduced to the Wisk team and catch up with industry contacts in person for the first time – took us to Wisk’s testing facility near Hollister. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by not one, but all of Wisk’s tech demonstrator aircraft since its inception in 2010. Chief Technology Officer Jim Tighe talked us all through each one and their significance.
For background, Gen 1 helped Wisk understand the transition of vertical lift and forward flight, with its first flight in 2011 and then on to its first transition – taking off like a helicopter, accelerating to wingborne flight and then transition back to hover mode before landing – in 2014. It completed more than 200 test flights and was designed to fit into a single parking space, which is why parts of the aircraft, such as the canards, were designed to fold inwards.
Gen 2 was the first aircraft to have a person on board, evolving the design of Gen 1. While it only completed five test flights, Gen 2 helped Wisk engineers to understand the limitations in existing battery technologies. This meant the aircraft size needed to be increased to compensate for the weight of the batteries. It was also built to focus on wing-borne characteristics, as well as systems validation and flight test team maturation for Gen 3.
Gen 3 was a Collier Trophy finalist for the demonstration of the full envelope of a piloted eVTOL aircraft. It was built to test and validate a new configuration based on lessons learned from previous generations, and operation between 2015-2017, completing 70 test flights. This model was essential for testing the positioning and number of booms, with many components of this generation of aircraft making their way into future designs, such as the aircraft structure and wing shape.
Gens 4 and 5 have similar body shapes, but were used to test different vertical propulsion systems, avionics and software. In 2018, Wisk conducted its first fully autonomous off-runway flight and these two designs helped the company to solidify its proprietary boom design/configuration and mature its autonomy platform. They were also used to test airspace integration and autonomous flight in controlled airspace. To date, they have carried out more than 1,300 test flights since 2017 and have reached speeds of up to 145mph.
As many of our readers already know, Wisk is taking a different approach to its competitors in that its Gen 6 aircraft will be fully autonomous and won’t have a pilot at the controls. Instead, a member of Wisk’s control team will monitor the aircraft throughout its journey. An interactive screen in front of each passenger gives them real-time updates, and they can use the screen to also change the temperature.
You could sense the excitement amongst the Wisk team and I really felt the passion from each of the leadership team who gave an overview of areas such as autonomy, customer experience, product design and engineering.
But for me, what is even more impressive is that it’s clear Wisk has done its homework when building an aircraft that is accessible to all. During the initial stages when designing Gen 6, the company ran surveys with more than 600 individuals and worked with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Of the 600 individuals, 150 of them went through a mock setup so they could provide feedback to Wisk’s design.
Uri Tzarnotzky, Director of Product Design at Wisk, said: “Our passengers want to make the most of that time either by being productive or by being able to rest, relax and recharge. So in one of our qualitative studies, we asked people to pack a bag as if they are going on a journey. We asked them to tell us about their day and when unpacking their bag, they showed us tablets, cell phones and charging cables. So what we wanted to do was support these routines.”
Gen 6 includes in-flight Wi-Fi and passengers also have the ability to charge their devices wirelessly or via wire charging. They can listen to music with headphones provided or on their own by syncing their device to the aircraft, to avoid missing any on-board messages. Cabin heating and air conditioning is also included, with each passenger having individual control flow.
The interactive display provides a pre-flight safety briefing, which is also delivered in sign language and with closed captions. During the journey, passengers can get real-time updates on where the aircraft is, what it is doing and when they will arrive at their destination. For accessibility, there’s also audio notifications, language selection and a colour scheme that’s amenable to most forms of colour blindness.
Tzarnotzky added: “We’re working tirelessly to ensure the aircraft and the ecosystem of products and services are as accessible, inclusive and useful as possible. We feel really privileged to work on bringing the joy of flight to so many people. We’re building more than just an aircraft. We’re minimising the barriers to entry for this form of travel, so that anyone can take to the skies with us.”
A fireside chat with Gary Gysin, Wisk’s President and CEO, and Brian Yutko, Boeing Vice President and Chief Engineer of Sustainability & Future Mobility, really outlined the strength of both companies in their work to achieve uncrewed UAM operations.
Commenting on the partnership, Brian added: “It was really clear that this was the right partnership for us. Now, why is Boeing interested in such a space? The smallest aeroplane that we make right now is the 737 Max. And that’s a pretty big aeroplane; the kind you sit on and take 50 of your best friends to Florida.
“These aeroplanes are obviously a very different size. But what they represent, I would put in two dimensions that are really, really important to us.
“The first of all is the business aspect and market potential of bringing safe, everyday and zero emissions flight closer to where people live. There’s a potential revolution in how people fly, and we want to be a part of that.
“But the second part of this, which is equally important, is the pioneering technology that enables that business. Specifically, that autonomous flight with human oversight as Jon [Lovegren, Head of Autonomy at Wisk] and the team just described. You know that’s how it will actually work.”
While there are still challenges when it comes to autonomy, we at eVTOL Insights are very much looking forward to following Wisk’s progress as it aims to become the first to certify and commercialise an autonomous eVTOL aircraft. Thank you for making me feel so welcome – I hope to come back and visit soon!