Startup Kitty Hawk, founded by Google co-founder and Alphabet mogul Larry Page in 2015 and named in honor of the site of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in 1903, has presented a hybrid multirotor/fixed-wing two-passenger c-drone called Cora. The craft is an eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) design with twelve lateral rotors projected forward and aft at the level of the 36ft (11m) wide wings, a pusher propeller behind the short fuselage, and a twin boom supporting the tail. The plane features a range of 60 miles (100km), airspeed of 90 mph (150km/h) and a 3000ft (900m) ceiling. It has fixed landing gear and a patented rocket-assisted emergency parachute system, comparable to BRS Aerospace designs. In level flight, the rotors are stopped and “feathered” to reduce drag and conserve energy. Flight paths can be preprogrammed, with ground-based pilot oversight. The goal is to provide commercial air taxi service above the congestion of roadways.
Tests have been conducted in California at Hollister Municipal Airport for several years and, since October, in the Canterbury region of New Zealand near Christchurch with two vehicles shipped from California. Kitty Hawk has founded a local operating arm, Zephyr Airworks, which cooperates closely with authorities and has obtained airspace authorizations in uncrowded skies. Present in New Zealand since 2016, Zephyr is managed by Fred Reid, a seasoned airline executive who has managed Virgin America, Delta, and Lufthansa in the past.
Kitty Hawk is not Page’s first foray into an air taxi project. In 2010, he founded a company in California called Zee.Aero with Stanford aerospace professor Ilan Kroo, who filed patents in 2013 and 2016 for an eight-rotor prototype single-passenger craft with small wings. However, Page reportedly grew impatient with the pace of progress there following a proof-of-concept craft, the Z-P1, so he set up Kitty Hawk as an independent competitor helmed by former Google X division head Sebastian Thrun. Kitty Hawk created buzz one Saturday afternoon in June 2017 when their Flyer one-person hovercraft buzzed about the water near the docks of San Francisco Bay. Zee.Aero is now being folded into Kitty Hawk with the Cora announcement; Eric Allison, Zee.Aero’s second CEO, is now VP of engineering at Kitty Hawk.
Commercial air taxi service is likely years away at this time. However, several companies developing the technology have noted that deconfliction — avoiding accidents — is simpler for self-flying passenger drones in the air compared to self-driving cars on the roads.