Joby Aviation’s cutting-edge eVTOL S4 Flight Simulator is proving popular and NASA is presently collaborating with the company on a series of simulated flight tests, reports a press release.

The aim is for NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) researchers to gather data and assist the future of the National airspace required by eVTOLs and drones “to execute flight paths as easily as your phone maps your car’s route.” The reference data gathered will provide “insight into how these vehicles will fly in the airspace and help develop potential departures, approaches, missed approaches, and mid-flight waypoints.”  

The release explains, “Integrating these in-flight maneuvers, which are used by aircraft to take off, land, and avoid hazards as well as each other into AAM operations, is one of several developmental efforts necessary to allow these vehicles to safely enter the airspace.”

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data scientist Sarah Eggum, left, and FAA Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Office program manager Brad Drake analyse flight altitude data on Sept.19 in Marina, California. In the background, NASA research pilot Wayne Ringleberg and NASA project operations engineer Andrew Guion execute flight paths in Joby Aviation’s S4 simulator. (credit Joby/NASA)

To date, four NASA research pilots have flown the Joby simulator. It includes joystick controls, avionics, and performance modeling that duplicate the feel of flying Joby’s S4 air taxi. The trials involve flying the simulator along designated route waypoints, collecting data to analyse which maneuvers are best for obstacle avoidance, route efficiency, passenger comfort, and noise. 

The release continues, “The simulations also experiment with a new flight path concept the FAA calls a deproach, in which a vehicle can fly in multiple directions as it travels to and from its starting point and adapt beyond its designated flight path if it needs to respond to air restrictions. In this way, the deproach could address the need for AAM vehicles to be able to operate flexibly at low altitudes while conserving airspace.”

David Zahn, a NASA pilot leading the project’s Joby simulator work, commented, “You can think of a deproach as a circular traffic profile which consolidates departure, approach, and missed procedures in a way current airspace models don’t account for.”

He continued, “The ability to explore this new model and help streamline the process of reaching specific vertiports is an example of the value of these simulations.”

Alongside fine-tuning this procedure, the simulation test data is to establish “basepoints of altitude, maneuverability, and ride quality for future tests” to ultimately help identify the most successful operating practices for these vehicles.

FAA Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Office program manager Brad Drake, left, tracks flight path data as NASA project operations engineer Andrew Guion provides formulas to NASA research pilot Wayne Ringelberg Sept.19 in Marina, California. In the background, Joby Aviation’s Ryan Naru and NASA partner demonstration lead Gerrit Everson observe the work in the Joby S4 simulator. (credit: Joby/NASA)

NASA’s research pilots and engineers are also using the data to produce autopilot code and navigation information specific to air taxis for airborne navigation system databases. This code has been built in collaboration with the FAA, whose representatives were present at the trials as part of the two agencies’ broader partnership on AAM.  

Data and results from these efforts will be released to the public in the form of a series of technical papers, assisting the industry in moving forward. 

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(Top image: NASA research pilots David Zahn, left, and Wayne Ringleberg at the controls of Joby Aviation’s S4 simulator entering and testing flight path data to develop navigation codes – credit Joby/NASA)