Joby Aviation has announced the delivery of its electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to Edwards Air Force Base, California, in a deal worth up to $131m with the US Department of Defense.

Under the agreement, Joby will provide up to nine of its five-seat, low-noise, zero-emissions eVTOL aircraft to the Air Force and other federal agencies, allowing them to gain first-hand experience of their capabilities and potential applications.

The first two aircraft are expected to be delivered by early 2024 and will be used to demonstrate a range of logistics use cases, including cargo and passenger transportation. They will also become the first electric air taxis stationed at a US military base.

James Marques, an aerospace, defence, and security analyst at GlobalData, provided his view on the role of eVTOL aircraft in the military aviation space, “eVTOL has large potential in the military. They can free up manned helicopters for important missions and do roles like short-range logistics and casualty evacuation.

They will also have reduced noise and thermal signatures, which increase survivability in some threat environments.”

The deal comes just days after four Air Force pilots became the first to fly an eVTOL as sole pilot-in-command, through the full flight envelope, including transition from vertical to wing-borne flight.

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“We’re honoured to continue the tradition of accelerating emerging aviation technology as we become the first base to exercise electric air taxis as they are intended to be used in commercial operations,” said Lt. Col. Adam Brooks, Edwards Air Force Base, California, Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force commander.

Joby’s partnership with the Department of Defense began more than five years ago and provides the company with access to testing facilities, early operational experience for government customers, and a partial offset to its research and development costs.

Since the establishment of the Agility Prime program in 2020, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have all expressed interest in the capabilities of eVTOL aircraft.

In August 2022, Joby announced that the Marine Corps would participate in government-directed flight tests and use case exploration, including resupply, personnel transport, and emergency medical response applications.

This latest development underlines the US government’s continued commitment to the eVTOL sector and highlights the potential of electric air taxis in providing sustainable and efficient transportation solutions.

James Marques concluded: “Military interest will only go as far as the progress in battery technology. This is the biggest limiting factor; military work will need large amounts of specific power and comfortable amounts of single-charge flight time.

There’s intense competition in battery space, but it’s probably a few more years before they graduate from the ‘lighter’ duties at Edwards air force base to ‘front line’ work.”