Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Airways welcomes Zephyr flying taxi to NZ airspace

Airways welcomes Zephyr flying taxi to NZ airspace

Flying auto company Kitty Hawk has tested one of its electric, autonomous flying taxis under a new deal that will see them approach regulatory certification and a formal testing regime with the New Zealand government.

The self-flying taxi called Cora has a dozen lift fans - all powered by batteries - for vertical take-off and landing, and can fly about 62 miles and carry two passengers.

According to the video, Cora can fly at speeds of 150 kmh (93 mph) and has a full range of 100 kilometers.

Dubbed "Cora", the vehicle can "take off like a helicopter and transition to flying like a plane", Kitty Hawk said in a statement on Monday. Bonus points: The Kitty Hawk taxis will be autonomous. The company is negotiating with New Zealand over regulatory approval for a flying-taxi service. Cora is a different beast, looking far more like a small plane that is able to take off and land vertically.

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The Cora project envisages they will become so common that "air travel will be woven into our daily lives".

"With New Zealand's internationally respected aviation certification processes, and the country's first on-road testing of a fully autonomous electric vehicle, the South Island is the obvious place to test Cora", he says. Mr Page brought in Google-X founder and self-driving vehicle expert Sebastian Thrun to act as CEO of Kitty Hawk and former Virgin America and Delta CEO Fred Reid to head up Zephyr.

It hopes to make the vehicles commercially available in New Zealand within three years.

A pilot-less "air taxi" supported by tech investor Larry Page - called Cora - was unveiled this week. But it's hard for a human pilot to control an aircraft with a bunch of propellers, so sophisticated software is needed to make a vehicle like this work.

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With a wingspan of around 36 feet, the idea is for use in and around urban areas.

For years, rumors have swirled about Kitty Hawk, a flying auto startup that has been lavishly funded by Google co-founder Larry Page.

The US Federal Aviation Administration now lacks a certification basis to accept the airworthiness of such vehicles to transport fare-paying passengers. Page has secretly worked with a company called Kitty Hawk, run by Sebastian Thrun. The country said it will embrace the company and welcomed it to continue tests.

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