Autoflight breaks Joby’s world record for the longest eVTOL flight

Autoflight has debuted its 4th-generation full-size “Prosperity I” eVTOL air taxi prototype with a bang, celebrating the longest-ever recorded flight of an electric VTOL aircraft. Prosperity flew 250.64 km (155.74 miles) on a single charge, relegating Joby Aviation to second place.

It’s our first look at the new aircraft, styled by auto-design guru Frank Stephenson – and it appears to run a notably different airframe than the prototypes the company has previously shown in cruise transition testing.

Where the old prototypes used eight lift propellers along a pair of propulsion rails, as well as two pusher props at the back end of those rails, the new aircraft uses significantly thicker wings, and four propulsion rails, housing eight lift propellers. And the rail-mounted pusher props are now joined by another pusher on the back of the cabin, for a total of three. The cabin looks markedly larger, as well, potentially a five-seater, although we wouldn’t expect to see anyone flying in there at this stage.

As a lift-and-cruise design, the German-designed, Chinese-built Prosperity aircraft sacrifices some efficiency in the name of simplicity. In cruise flight, its lift props remain exposed, locked into a low-drag longitudinal orientation but theoretically still robbing the aircraft of range as compared to more complex tilt-prop designs like the Joby S4, which continuously uses all its props for forward thrust in cruise flight.

Hence it’s a bit of a surprise to hear this machine was able to pip Joby’s 2021 eVTOL flight endurance record, albeit only by a single mile and change, verified by third-party avionics as well as the aircraft’s own gear. It’s an excellent validation of Autoflight’s 150-plus-mile (241+ km) range claims, albeit flown without the dead weight of passengers in its belly. It wouldn’t surprise us if Joby went out tomorrow and laid down a bigger target just to keep these eVTOL whippersnappers in line – Joby Aviation was founded all the way back in 2009, where Autoflight concerned itself mainly with drones until 2020.

Still, it’s a remarkable achievement – and along with the hundreds of VTOL-to-cruise transition flights Autoflight has under its belt, it serves to cement this company as a legit contender in the emerging eVTOL market. Funded to around US$200 million and expecting to be certified and in service by 2025, Autoflight is currently sitting at #16 on SMG Consulting’s latest Advanced Air Mobility Reality Index, with Joby in the top spot, and Volocopter and Lilium, both of which are headquartered fairly close to Autoflight’s European office in Germany, sitting at #2 and #13, respectively.

“This flight is both a great celebratory milestone, and a testament to the team’s incredible effort and progress in testing and incrementally pushing the aircraft’s performance envelope,” said Autoflight President Omer Bar-Yohay in a press release. “It’s a remarkable achievement that shows our aircraft’s capability, and we are excited to continue working towards our next goals all the way to EASA certification in 2025.”

See the new Prosperity prototype make it record-breaking test flight in the video below.

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