Kitty Hawk's Flying Taxi Cora Undergoes Trials in New Zealand

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【Summary】Compared to the company’s first prototype, Cora appears to be designed for commercial flight.

Michael Cheng    Mar 24, 2018 8:05 AM PT
Kitty Hawk's Flying Taxi Cora Undergoes Trials in New Zealand

Flying cars prototypes are proliferating at a rapid pace, with Kitty Hawk, a startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, leading the way. The company recently unveiled its latest aircraft, Cora.

The all-electric flying taxi looks like a regular, two-passenger plane. This one, however, is equipped with a self-driving system. Compared to the company's first prototype, Cora appears to be designed for commercial flight.

Cora: Flying Taxi

With a wingspan of 36 feet, the aircraft is very functional. Interestingly, in an attempt to standout from other flying vehicles in development, Kitty Hawk is persistent in calling Cora a flying taxi. This also hints at the possibility of the company launching a commercial air-taxi service, powered by a fleet of flying taxis.

"The all-electric Cora uses 12 fans to take off and land vertically. Once in the air, it uses a single propeller to fly like an airplane. It can carry two passengers, has a range of about 62 miles, and a top speed of about 110 mph," said the company.

For peace of mind, the aircraft is equipped with robust safety features, including a giant parachute designed to slow down freefall and ease emergency landing maneuvers. Furthermore, all of the propellers on the flying vehicle operate independently. Should one fail, the other propellers will continue to function normally. The flight control platform is also backed by multiple computers, for enhanced redundancy.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of Cora is its autonomous capability. The unit is guided using an on-board driverless system and human operators on the ground. Kitty Hawk markets the flying taxi as an aircraft that can be used by anyone; suggesting that no flying or piloting experience is needed during use. 

Trials in New Zealand 

Although Cora was conceptualized and developed in California, commercial operations for the flying taxi will likely commence in a different part of the world. Kitty Hawk has set its sights on New Zealand, due to its lax regulatory environment for this type of technology.

In the country, the business is flying under the radar via New Zealand operator Zephyr Airworks, which is led by aviation veteran Fred Reid (previously chief executive of Virgin America and ex-president of both Delta Airlines and Lufthansa). Setting up trials in New Zealand has allowed the company to streamline the acquisition of native certification and benefit from intellectual property protection laws. 

According to Sebastian Thurn, CEO of Kitty Hawk, meetings with local officials have been positive. At the moment, the Civil Aviation Authority is in the process of drafting a set of prerequisites for certification, which is applicable to the company's flying taxi operations.

"We've got the right conditions, in that we've got great regulations, great connectivity internationally, wide open space and a local authority that is committed to trialing new technologies," said Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

Zephyr Airworks' role in the success of the trials is an important one. The company will conduct fleet management services for Kitty Hawk, ensuring the flying taxis take on set routes in a safe and timely manner.

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