Urban Aeronautic’s Flying Taxi Just Took its First Autonomous Flight

The race to create a flying taxi is on, Urban Aeronautic’s X-Hawk prototype might be leading the pack. In a video released Saturday, the company showed a smaller version of the X-Hawk, called the Cormorant, taking its first autonomous pattern flight over desert terrain.

As seen in the video, the Cormorant has a number of advantages over a traditional aircraft. The vehicle has a rotorless design that gives it the ability to land almost anywhere. It’s also able to hover adjacent to vertical locations, making it perfect for emergency evacuations. Quieter than traditional helicopters, the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle is more function for urban airspaces, making it a great fit for applications like utility work, civil policing and urban shipping.

Urban Aeronautics also sees the X-Hawk as a crucial advancement in military technology, allowing operations flight in areas where helicopters aren’t easily flown. As an alternative to ground transportation, the X-Hawk will allow troops to avoid the risk of IEDs and other threats while directly delivering troops through window entrances. The vehicle has come a huge way since the first test of its predecessor, the Airmule, in Israel in 2004.

The X-Hawk could fit up to 11 soliders


Most importantly, “Fancraft” vehicles like the X-Hawk could have huge implications for the use of VTOLs in the consumer space. The twin-engine aircraft already meets FAA standards and can fit up to ten passengers and a pilot. Given its successful air test, the X-Hawk might be the closest version of a VTOL to the type of vehicle Uber outlined in an October whitepaper for UberElevate, an air taxi system.

Of course, Urban Aeronautics is hardly the only competitor in the space. In October, Airbus announced it was working on “Project Vahana,” an autonomous flying vehicle that could be used to carry both passengers and cargo. And DARPA has been refining VTOL technology for decades. Vahana says its project could be ready for consumer use by 2020 and Uber has suggested UberElevate will launch within the next decade, so it could be just a matter of years until flying taxis are a reality.