Department of Defense officials extended the organization’s contract with an electric flying taxi company on Tuesday, moving U.S. Air Force aviators one step closer to remotely piloting cargo and people using advanced aircraft technology from the ground.
Joby Aviation, a company developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, announced the $55 million extension, raising the contract’s total value with the USAF up to $131 million.
“This extension of our contract with the Department of Defense is an important milestone for both Joby and the broader eVTOL industry,” Paul Sciarra, Joby’s executive chairman, told Axios.
The agreement requires the company to deliver and operate up to nine of its five-seat, low-noise aircraft that operate on zero emissions to the military branch and other federal agencies, including NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Joby officials said in a news release that Edwards Air Force Base in California would likely receive the first two aircraft by early 2024.
Among demonstrating a range of potential logistic use cases, including cargo and passenger transportation, Joby officials expect Edwards Air Force Base to become the first U.S. military base to station electric air taxis.
Sciarra said the contract marks the first delivery of eVTOL aircraft to customers, the first training of non-company pilots on an eVTOL, and likely the first revenue-generating operations of eVTOL in the U.S. and potentially the world.
“These are real aircraft deployed in real situations against real use-cases, so we’ll get invaluable feedback and operational experience far in advance of commercial operations,” he said.
Four Air Force pilots became the first Air Force personnel to remotely fly the advanced aircraft from the ground last week, which included transitions from vertical to wingborne flight.
The announcement comes amid Air Force officials working with several eVTOL manufacturers through the Agility Prime program, which aims to transform how public-private partnerships can deliver “trailblazing technology at speed,” JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby, said in a news release.
“As well as allowing us to explore the wide range of potential use cases across the U.S. government, our defense partners have also provided us with high-impact support as we prepare for commercial operations in 2025,” Bevirt said.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have all expressed interest in the capabilities of eVTOL aircraft since the officials established Agility Program in 2020.
Bipartisan members of Congress penned a letter in February to the Department of Transportation, calling for stronger U.S. leadership in Advanced Air Mobility.
“We are at a pivotal time in aviation. In just a few short years, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and other forms of emerging aviation technologies will be operating in our National Airspace System (NAS), changing the way in which goods and people move within rural and urban areas,” the letter reads.
Lawmakers argue the new era of aviation could usher in an estimated $1 trillion and 400,000 new jobs to economies worldwide.
Last month, the White House signaled its support for the aircraft technology, identifying clean aviation as a top priority.
Axios reported that Joby is undergoing an FAA process to certify its aircraft for commercial civilian flights.