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Aviation company Wisk announced yesterday that it is receiving a $450 million investment from Boeing as it works on its sixth-generation electric air taxi. Like other startups in the space, Wisk aims to create an Uber-type service in the sky in which paying passengers will book rides on a small aircraft that can take off and land vertically while running off battery power, not fossil fuels. 

The company, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk Corp., has already been flying a two-seater electric aircraft that they’ve dubbed Cora. Cora, which debuted in 2018, flies autonomously—it hasn’t yet carried people—and can hit speeds of about 100 miles per hour, according to Wisk spokesperson Chris Brown. The yellow-colored Cora aircraft sports 12 small rotor-like fans on its wings, which allow it to take off and land vertically. A rear propeller pushes it through the air. When it’s cruising in forward flight, it does so using the lift from its wings to keep it in the sky—those fans can stop spinning and then stay in a stationary position while the pusher prop does all the work.

While the company’s yellow Cora aircraft represents its fifth-generation flying machine, the sixth remains under wraps. “It will be larger,” says Brown. “And have [a] longer range.” Cora’s range is about 25 miles. 

Brown says the influx of money will help them expand the company as they work on their next air taxi. “That funding is really going to a new growth phase that’s emerging over the coming year, in correlation with the sixth-gen aircraft,” he says. They’ll also prepare to manufacture the new aircraft at scale. The goal is for the company to eventually both make the aircraft and operate the mobility service that allows people to catch rides on them.

[Related: Check out the helicopter vying to be the next Black Hawk]

Wisk isn’t alone in this new aviation frontier—other companies have been taxiing towards takeoff in the sector, working on what are known as eVTOLs: electric vertical take-off and landing craft. One of them is Joby, which has been flying an electric craft that holds five people and uses six big tilting propellers to take off, cruise, and land. Heaviside, from Kitty Hawk, is offering a more solitary ride—it will seat just one. A notable competitor is Archer, which is also working on an electric air taxi. (Archer and Wisk have a legal dispute.)

Boeing had been working on an air taxi of its own, called the PAV, which crashed in 2019; no one was on board nor hurt. Boeing has “discontinued the development of PAV,” says Brown, who notes that Wisk is now their “singular focus” in this field. 

Like the way the single-seat Kitty Hawk aircraft is designed to totally fly itself, Wisk is also embracing a completely autonomous future, which is different from how Joby has designed its piloted craft. “I think we recognize that since we’re taking the autonomous-first approach, that we’re not going to be the first to market—that would most likely be another player, with a piloted service,” Brown says, predicting, however, that Wisk would be the fully first autonomous player to arrive on the market. 

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