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Wisk brings future of vertical flight to Heli-Expo

By Jen Nevans | March 5, 2024

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 13 seconds.

California-based eVTOL developer Wisk Aero made its presence known at the industry’s largest tradeshow last week. With its own exhibit the size of its parent company Boeing, Wisk displayed its sixth-generation autonomous electric aircraft at Heli-Expo 2024 in Anaheim, California, giving showgoers a glimpse into the future of vertical flight.

“We’ve been a [Vertical Aviation International] member for many years now, so they’ve always encouraged us to come,” David Oord, Wisk’s policy manager, told Vertical. “I think the timing was right with the rebranding of [Helicopter Association International] to VAI.”

Backed by Boeing and the now-defunct Kittyhawk, Wisk has spent the last 14 years carrying out around 1,800 full-scale test flights using five previous generations of its aircraft. All of its learnings went into developing the Gen 6 model, which the company plans to get type certified with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Our [certification] timeline is dictated by the FAA,” Oord said. “With that said, we would like to say that we will be in commercial service before the end of the decade.”

California-based eVTOL developer Wisk Aero displayed its sixth-generation autonomous eVTOL air taxi at Heli-Expo 2024. Brent Bundy Photo

The company is exploring new certification territory with its eVTOL aircraft, which is designed to take off and land like a helicopter, but uses its tiltrotors to transition and then cruise on its wings. Wisk is taking it a step further by introducing a level of autonomy to its operations, with human oversight from the ground. First test flights of the Gen 6 are planned for later this year, the company said.

“Every commercial airline flight is flown with levels of automation today: flight controls, autopilots, flight directors,” said Oord, who believes Wisk’s autonomous technology can be utilized across the industry. “We’re not replacing a seat at the table. We’re just making the table bigger so that we can have a seat in the vertical-lift community.”

Unlike traditional original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Wisk is taking a vertically-integrated approach and plans to operate its own aircraft. The company has applied for its part 135 air carrier certificate and plans to use Bell 206 helicopters to carry out single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR) trial operations, before adding its eVTOL aircraft to its certificate.

“We’re going to manufacture it and also fly it. That’s really important. We really need to have that ability to control all aspects of the operation,” Oord said.

The startup is also in a unique position among its eVTOL rivals. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing, the connection to the aerospace giant opens up new doors for Wisk.

“The Boeing partnership has been beneficial on a number of levels. Obviously, there’s the technical expertise that Boeing has to certify the program,” Oord said. “And also, the global aspect and the global regulators. [Boeing has] the ties that when we do have those conversations with the other authorities, they can open up all those doors for us.”

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