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Kitty Hawk begins testing Cora air taxi

13 March 2018

A new all-electric autonomous aircraft built by the startup Kitty Hawk has been in testing for months. Meanwhile, Google's Larry Page has been funding a company that will bypass all of that.

Kitty Hawk, which has so far only demonstrated its piloted recreational hovercraft (a luxury item created to help it spur development of its autonomous air taxis) has been testing its autonomous electric passenger aircraft, which resembles a small plane with variable rotors that can go from a vertical alignment for take-off and landing, to a horizontal one for flying like an ordinary plane through the skies.

Testing of a self-piloted air taxi is taking place in Canterbury, with the hope the flying service could soon take to the skies.

The aircraft has been developed by Kitty Hawk, which is run by Sebastian Thrun, who previously led the development of Google's self-driving cars as director of Google X. We first saw the news via The New York Times. With a 36-foot wingspan, the aircraft flies between 500 and 3,000 feet above the ground at around 110 miles per hour. It can travel at around 110mph, and has a range of around 62 miles. Mr Page brought in Google-X founder and self-driving vehicle expert Sebastian Thrun to act as CEO of Kitty Hawk and former Virgin America and Delta CEO Fred Reid to head up Zephyr.

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New Zealand is focused on becoming "net carbon zero" by the year 2050, which is why prime minister Jacinda Ardern embraced the emissions-free transportation project. It's been testing the vehicles through a local operator called Zephyr Airworks, and Cora has an "experimental airworthiness certificate" from both New Zealand and U.S. aviation authorities.

Mr Page's wholly owned aviation firm Kitty Hawk - named after the Wright brothers' home town in North Carolina - has unveiled an air-taxi prototype eight-years in the making.

Zephyr Airworks is working in collaboration with New Zealand's business ministry, its transport ministry, and its Civil Aviation Authority.

Kitty Hawk begins testing Cora air taxi