Kitty Hawk unveils its third electric aircraft, Heaviside

Kitty Hawk's new Heaviside is an electric aircraft with impressive range.
Image: Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk has unveiled its latest electric aircraft, Heaviside, The Verge reports. The startup, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, revealed that Heaviside is about 100 times quieter than a helicopter. It can make a 55-mile journey between San Jose and San Francisco in about 15 minutes.

However, when it comes to the tech specs surrounding Heaviside’s powertrain and battery, Kitty Hawk is keeping things secretive. TechCrunch reported that the orange and black aircraft clocks in at about one-third the size of a Cessna. It also has eight rotor blades in its vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system.

One Giant Leap for Electric Aircraft

TechCrunch reports that the Heaviside has a total range of roughly 100 miles. If this proves true, it would equate to a giant leap forward in electric flight. Flying vehicles are extremely energy-intensive. Moreover, the weight of batteries presents challenges for liftoff. As The Verge pointed out, the same technology that puts a Tesla M3 300 miles down the road only translates to a few miles of flight.

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Therefore, Kitty Hawk has gone small. The company made its first foray into the wild blue yonder with the Flyer. The startup’s debut aircraft can only carry one person. It’s second aircraft, Cora, can fit two. Now, the Heaviside has gone back to a one-person approach. This may be how Kitty Hawk was able to increase its range so drastically.

However, Heaviside only being able to fit one person raises questions about what Kitty Hawk plans to do with it. Though the company is keeping its production plans under wraps, Kitty Hawk is clearly heading into the fledgling flying taxi sphere. The company recently announced that it will be teaming up with Boeing to develop the aerospace giant’s semi-autonomous flying taxis. It’s also heading down under to work on flying taxis with Air New Zealand.

One aspect of Heaviside that Kitty Hawk is heavily touting is the electric aircraft’s noise level—or lack thereof. In a video showing off Heaviside, the startup states that a conventional helicopter hovering at 1,500 feet puts out about 80 decibels of sound. Conversely, the electric craft emits just 36 decibels at the same height.

Crowded Skies

With the low-sound emission in mind, Kitty Hawk certainly has something that sets it apart from the competition. That’s a good thing as the flying taxi space is ramping up. Uber has plans to begin testing flights for its Uber Air service in 2020. The company hopes to launch its new division commercially by 2023.

In the meantime, Uber has already launched a flight service that takes people from lower Manhattan to JFK using noisy conventional helicopters. This is where Kitty Hawk’s quieter aircraft might distinguish themselves if noise complaints start to become an issue.

However, Kitty Hawk can’t rest on its quiet aircraft laurels. Uber has teamed up with NASA’s Ames Research Center to discover better technology for drone deliveries and VTOL vehicles.

In other words, the competition is heating up. As the air taxi and electric flight vehicle races go on, Kitty Hawk’s innovations are helping usher in the future.