Posts with «airline industry» label

NASA's new X-59 plane could hit supersonic speeds with minimal sonic boom

NASA’s X-59 Quesst supersonic commercial jet, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin, will have its flight test livestreamed as a demonstration of how quiet it can be in the air. The $247.5 million Quesst, whose name is short for Quiet SuperSonic Tech, will be shown on the livestream dramatically emerging from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California. NASA has been on a mission since 2018 to prove that its X-59 can fly over cities without producing noise pollution, or sonic booms. This test flight marks an important milestone in the six-year-old project.

The first flight will be streamed on January 12 at 4pm ET on YouTube, as well as the NASA app and the NASA+ streaming service.

The space agency said it will survey people about the noises they hear from the jet during the first flight. It did not specify how it would find these people, or many people it would poll. The data collected will be sent to regulators and used to help propose new rules that limit the use of supersonic jets. The US federal government has blocked all civilian supersonic jets from flying over land for over five decades.

When NASA first announced its quiet supersonic technology project in 2018, administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States.” While the jet was supposed to first take flight in 2021, the debut today still marks a major milestone in the QueSST mission. By 2027, NASA expects to have more definitive results about how effective the new aircraft technology is at reducing flight noise.

If new laws are eventually passed that permit supersonic jet aircrafts to fly in close proximity to land, high-speed commercial flights could become a reality. Once NASA and Lockheed Martin finalize development of the aircraft, the agency said it will conduct safety evaluations for about nine months. After enough evidence is shared to prove that the Quesst aircraft can be flown safely, NASA plans to expand its flight tests to cities across the US and collect more information about the noise it produces through additional surveys.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

From toilets to the sky: UK startup makes waste into low carbon jet fuel

Firefly Green Fuels, a UK-based company, has developed a new form of jet fuel that is entirely fossil-free and made from human waste. The company worked with experts at Cranfield University to confirm that the fuel they developed had a 90 percent lower carbon footprint than what is used in aviation today, according to the BBC. Tests by independent regulators validated that what Firefly Green Fuels has developed is nearly identical to standard A1 jet fuel.

In 2021, the company received a £2 million grant from the Department of Transport to continue developing its sustainable aviation fuel. Although it’s not yet available commercially, the company says it is on track to bringing its fuel to the global market and it will have its first commercial plant operating within 5 years. The company has already inked a partnership with the budget airline Wizz Air — the name of the company and the source of its potential combustibles could scarcely be a more perfect pairing — to supply it with fuel starting in 2028.

It currently sources its waste from water companies in the UK and takes the refined sewage through a process called hydrothermal liquefaction, which converts the liquid waste into a sludge or crude oil. Solid by-products can also be made into crop fertilizer. The company claims that the carbon intensity of the whole process — which measures how much carbon is needed to produce energy — is 7.97 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule (gCO²e/MJ). Comparatively, the ICCT says carbon intensity recorded for jet fuel ranges from 85 to 95 gCO²e/MJ.

Organic matter, as the company points out, takes millions of years to develop into the fossil fuels that power cars and planes. Firefly’s solution makes it possible to generate fuel in a matter of days — and more importantly, human waste is a widely available resource. It's unclear if sustainable jet fuel will be more or less expensive than what is currently available. The company could not immediately be reached for comment. However, in a statement, the company’s CEO James Hygate made mention that using human waste is a “cheap and abundant feedstock [that] will never run out.”

The achievement of carbon neutrality in our airspaces has been a longtime goal for regulators and leaders in Europe and the US. While EVs have made headway in the car industry, it might be a while before we see battery powered commercial jets. So in the meantime, solutions for creating more environmentally-friendly jet fuel are welcome.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Volvo's EM90 'living room on the move' minivan has up to 450 miles of EV range

Volvo has unveiled its first fully electric minivan, which is geared toward comfort. So much so, the brand describes the EM90 as a "living room on the move." While it might be comfy enough to travel in while wearing PJs, Volvo is pitching the EV as an option for those who want a space where they can get work done too.

The EM90 is infused with sound isolation and road noise cancellation tech, while Volvo claims that dual chamber air suspension and silent tires will offer the driver and passengers a smooth ride. If that works as promised, you'll be able to get the most out of an audio system that has 21 Bowers & Wilkins speakers.

Along with a 15.4-inch infotainment screen for the driver, there's a roof-mounted 15.6-inch HD display to which you can cast shows and movies from your phone. Attach a compatible camera, and the screen can be used for video calls. 5G connectivity will come in handy for business-minded users too.

Many of the EM90's functions can be controlled with your voice, including the audio and interior lighting. With a voice command or by flicking a switch, the car's screens, seats, windows, air conditioner and lighting can be adjusted for theater or meeting room use — or even a bedroom setup for the rear seats, Volvo says.

If the EM90 looks familiar, that's because it's based on the 009 from Zeekr, Volvo's sibling brand, as Electrek points out. It has a 200 kW electric motor that can take it from 0 to 100 kmph (62.1 mph) in 8.3 seconds. The EV has a 116 kWh battery (with bi-directional charging support) that Volvo claims can charge from 10 to 80 percent in under 30 minutes.

On top of all of that, the EM90 has an impressive range, at least on paper. Volvo says it has a range of up to 738 km (459 miles) based on China's CLTC testing cycle. The vehicle will only be available in China at first and it starts at around $114,000. It's unclear if or when the EV will arrive elsewhere.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best travel gifts for 2023

Be it for work or play, many people are taking trips again, which makes travel-related gifts an excellent idea. Whether your loved ones are adventure-seeking globetrotters or frequent business travelers, it’s time to look into upgrading their existing on-the-go kit. We’ve curated a list of various items that all travel lovers will appreciate. Things like sleep masks and packing cubes are essential, and tech gear like battery packs and noise-canceling headphones can make the hectic parts of traveling a bit less stressful. We’re sure at least one of these will help make your loved ones’ next adventure a lot more enjoyable.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Kobo Libra 2

Retroid Pocket 3+

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Nestout Outdoor Battery

Newvanga travel power adapter

JBL Clip 4 Eco

Loop Quiet Earplugs

Bellroy Toiletry Kit Plus

NuPhy Air75 V2

Logitech MX Anywhere 3S

Peak Design Packable Tote

Huckberry x GoRuck GR2 Slick Backpack

Sunski Seacliff Polarized Recycled Sunglasses

ExpressVPN subscription

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Hitting the Books: Voice-controlled AI copilots could lead to safer flights

Siri and Alexa were only the beginning. As voice recognition and speech synthesis technologies continue to mature, the days of typing on keyboards to interact with the digital world around us could be coming to an end — and sooner than many of us anticipated. Where today's virtual assistants exist on our mobile devices and desktops to provide scripted answers to specific questions, the LLM-powered generative AI copilots of tomorrow will be there, and everywhere else too. This is the "voice-first" future Tobias Dengel envisions in his new book, The Sound of the Future: The Coming Age of Voice Technology.

Using a wide-ranging set of examples, and applications in everything from marketing, sales and customer service to manufacturing and logistics, Dengel walks the reader through how voice technologies can revolutionize the ways in which we interact with the digital world. In the excerpt below, Dengel discusses voice technology might expand its role in the aviation industry, even after the disastrous outcome of its early use in the Boeing 737 MAX.       


Excerpted from THE SOUND OF THE FUTURE: The Coming Age of Voice Technology by Tobias Dengel with Karl Weber. Copyright © 2023. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


Some workplaces involve greater risks than others. Today’s technology-driven society sometimes multiplies the risks we face by giving ordinary people control over once-incredible amounts of power, in forms that range from tractor trailers to jet airplanes. People carrying out professional occupations that involve significant risks on a daily basis will also benefit from the safety edge that voice provides — as will the society that depends on these well-trained, highly skilled yet imperfect human beings.

When the Boeing 737 MAX airliner was rolled out in 2015, it featured a number of innovations, including distinctive split-tip winglets and airframe modifications that affected the jumbo jet’s aerodynamic characteristics. A critical launch goal for Boeing was to enable commercial pilots to fly the new plane without needing new certifications, since retraining pilots is very expensive for airlines. To achieve that goal, the airliner’s software included an array of ambitious new features, including many intended to increase safety by taking over control from the crew in certain situations. These included something called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was supposed to compensate for an excessive nose-up angle by adjusting the horizontal stabilizer to keep the aircraft from stalling— a complicated technical “hack” implemented by Boeing to avoid the larger cost involved in rewriting the program from the ground up.

The 737 MAX was a top seller right out of the gate. But what Boeing and its airline customers hadn’t realized was that the software was being asked to do things the pilots didn’t fully understand. As a result, pilots found themselves unable to interface in a timely fashion with the complex system in front of them. The ultimate result was two tragic crashes with 346 fatalities, forcing the grounding of the 737 MAX fleet and a fraud settlement that cost Boeing some $2.5 billion. Additional losses from cancelled aircraft orders, lowered stock value, and other damages have been estimated at up to $60 billion. 

These needless losses — financial and human — were caused, in large part, by small yet fatal failures of cockpit communication between people and machines. The pilots could tell that something serious was wrong, but the existing controls made it difficult for them to figure out what that was and to work with the system to correct the problem. As a result, in the words of investigative reporter Peter Robison, “the pilots were trying to retake control of the plane, so that the plane was pitching up and down over several minutes.” Based on his re-creation of what happened, Robison concludes, “it would have been terrifying for the people on the planes.”

When voice becomes a major interface in airliner cockpits, a new tool for preventing such disasters will be available. In traditional aviation, pilots receive commands like “Cleared Direct Casanova VOR” or “Intercept the ILS 3” via radio from dispatchers at air traffic control. After the pilots get this information, they must use their eyes and hands to locate and press a series of buttons to transmit the same commands to the aircraft. In a voice-driven world, that time-wasting, error-prone step will be eliminated. In the first stage of voice adoption, pilots will simply be able to say a few words without moving their eyes from the controls around them, and the plane will respond. According to Geoff Shapiro, a human factors engineer at the former Rockwell Collins Advanced Technology Center, this shift trims the time spent when entering simple navigational commands from half a minute to eight seconds — a huge improvement in circumstances when a few moments can be critical. In the second stage, once veteran pilots have recognized and accepted the power of voice, the plane will automatically follow the spoken instructions from air traffic control, merely asking the pilot to confirm them.

A voice-interface solution integrating the latest capabilities of voice-driven artificial intelligence can improve airline safety in several ways. It gives the system self-awareness and the ability to proactively communicate its state and status to pilots, thereby alerting them to problems even at moments when they might otherwise be distracted or inattentive. Using increasingly powerful voice-technology tools like automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding, it also allows the airplane’s control systems to process and act on conversational speech, making the implementation of pilot commands faster and more accurate than ever. It facilitates real-time communications linking the cockpit, air traffic control, the airline carrier, and maintenance engineers to remove inconsistencies in communication due to human indecision or misjudgment. In the near future, it may even be able to use emerging voice-tech tools such as voice biometrics and real-time sentiment analysis to determine stress levels being experienced by pilots —information that could be used to transmit emergency alerts to air traffic controllers and others on the ground.

Voice technology won’t eliminate all the traditional activities pilots are trained to perform. But in critical moments when the speed of response to messages from a control tower may spell the difference between survival and disaster, the use of a voice interface will prevent crashes and save lives. This is not a fantasy about the remote future. Today’s planes have all the electronics needed to make it possible. 

One field of aviation in which safety risks are especially intense is military flying. It’s also an arena in which voice-enabled aviation is being avidly pursued. Alabama-based Dynetics has received $12.3 million from DARPA, the Pentagon’s storied defense-technology division, to develop the use of AI in “high-intensity air conflicts.” The third phrase of the current three-phase research/implementation program involves a “realistic, manned-flight environment involving complex human-machine collaboration” — including voice communication. 

The US Air Force is not alone in pursuing this technological advantage. The next generation of the MiG-35, the highly advanced Russian fighter jet, will apparently feature a voice assistant to offer advice in high-pressure situations. Test pilot Dmitry Selivanov says, “We call her Rita, the voice communicant. Her voice remains pleasant and calm even if fire hits the engine. She does not talk all the time, she just makes recommendations if the plane approaches some restrictions. Hints are also provided during combat usage.”

Voice-controlled flying is also in development for civilian aircraft. Companies like Honeywell and Rockwell are designing voice interfaces for aviation, with an initial focus on reducing pilot workload around tedious tasks involving basic, repetitive commands like “Give me the weather at LAX and any critical weather en route.” More extensive and sophisticated use cases for voice tech in aviation are steadily emerging. Vipul Gupta is general manager of Honeywell Aerospace Avionics. He and his team are deeply focused on perfecting the technology of the voice cockpit, especially its response speed, which is a crucial safety feature. Their engineers have reduced the voice system’s average response time to 250 milliseconds, which means, in effect, that the system can react more quickly than a human pilot can.

Over time, voice-controlled aircraft systems will become commonplace in most forms of aviation. But in the short term, the most important use cases will be in general aviation, where single-pilot operators are notoriously overloaded, especially when operating in bad weather or congested areas. Having a “voice copilot” will ease those burdens and make the flying experience safer for pilot and passengers alike.

Voice-controlled aircraft are also likely to dominate the emerging field of urban air mobility, which involves the use of small aircraft for purposes ranging from cargo deliveries to sightseeing tours within city and suburban airspaces. New types of aircraft, such as electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs) are likely to dominate this domain, with the marketplace for eVTOLs expected to explode from nothing in 2022 to $1.75 billion in 2028. As this new domain of flight expands, experienced pilots will be in short supply, so the industry is now designing simplified cockpit systems, controlled by voice, that trained “operators” will be able to manage.

Vipul Gupta is bullish about the future of the voice-powered cockpit. “Eventually,” he says, “we’ll have a voice assistant where you will just sit in [the aircraft] and the passenger will say, ‘Hey, fly me there, take me there. And then the system does it.’”

As a licensed pilot with significant personal experience in the cock- pit, I suspect he will be right —eventually. As with most innovations, I believe it will take longer than the early adopters and enthusiasts believe. This is especially likely in a critical field like aviation, in which human trust issues and regulatory hurdles can take years to overcome. But the fact is that the challenges of voice-powered flight are actually simpler in many ways than those faced by other technologies, such as autonomous automobiles. For example, a plane cruising at 20,000 feet doesn’t have to deal with red lights, kids dashing into the street, or other drivers tailgating.

For this reason, I concur with the experts who say that we will have safe, effective voice-controlled planes sooner than autonomous cars. And once the technology is fully developed, the safety advantages of a system that can respond to spoken commands almost instantly in an emergency will be too powerful for the aviation industry to forgo.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Garmin fitness smartwatches are up to 33 percent off via Amazon

Garmin has been pumping out high-quality fitness-based smartwatches for years and now’s your chance to score one on the cheap. The company’s selling a bunch of its most popular models on Amazon at a steep discount of 25 to 33 percent, depending on which device you go with. For instance, this brings the price of the well-reviewed Garmin Forerunner 745 down from $400 to $300.

The sale extends from budget-friendly releases like the Garmin Approach S10 GPS golf watch, now $100 instead of $150, to flagship products like the Garmin Epix Gen 2, which costs $700 instead of $900. The deals even apply to off-the-beaten-path products like the Garmin GPSMAP 66i handheld communicator, which is basically a really fancy walkie-talkie.

Other watches involved in the sale include the Forerunner 945 and the Vivoactive 4S, among others, so you can take your pick from the company’s many offerings. Garmin has long been known as a manufacturer of well-regarded smartwatches that specialize in fitness tracking and data metrics. We praised the Forerunner 745, for instance, as having accurate distance tracking, advanced training feedback, integration with Garmin’s payment module, a long battery life and internal storage that can fit up to 500 songs.

There’s no telling when Garmin and Amazon will turn off the discount spigot, so you may want to act fast, as many of these discounts nearly match record low prices for the company’s line of smartwatches.

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Joby Aviation's first production air taxi cleared for flight tests

Joby Aviation has been cleared by the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) to start flight tests on its first production prototype air taxi, the company wrote in a press release. It's a large step in the company's aim to start shipping the eVTOL aircraft (electric vertical takeoff and landing) to customers in 2024 and launch an air taxi service by 2025. 

"The aircraft will now undergo initial flight testing before being delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where it will be used to demonstrate a range of potential logistics use cases," Joby wrote. 

The aircraft can take off and land like a helicopter, then tilt its six rotors horizontally and fly like an airplane at up to 200 MPH. It's designed to carry a pilot and four passengers over a distance up to 100 miles on a charge — enough range for most types of air taxi operations. At the same time, Joby claims it's nearly silent in cruise mode and 100 times quieter than conventional aircraft during takeoff and landing.

Joby's first production prototype recently rolled off the company's assembly line in Marina, California. The plant was built in partnership with Toyota, Joby's largest investor with a $394 million stake. Cementing that relationship, Joby announced that it was appointing Toyota North America CEO Tetsuo (Ted) Ogawa to the board of directors.

With the the FAA's special airworthiness certificate in hand, Joby can perform flight tests of full production aircraft, following tests with full-scale prototypes that began in 2017. In May last year, the company received another crucial permit, the FAA's Part 135 air carrier certificate for commercial operations. It recently teamed with Delta Air Lines to offer travel to and from airports, and its website shows a scenario of flying from downtown NYC to JFK airport in just seven minutes compared to 49 minutes in a car.

Now, Joby must clear the largest hurdle with full FAA type and production certification in order to take paying passengers on commercial flights. That's likely about 18 months away, aerospace engineer and Vertical Flight Society director Mike Hirschberg told New Scientist. Its first customer would be the US Air Force, as part of a $131 million contract under the military's Agility Prime program, with deliveries set for 2024.

Alll that puts the company tantalizingly close to delivering a true air taxi service, something that has eluded numerous other manufacturers to date. Last year, the Kittyhawk aircraft backed by Larry Page shut down, and other companies like Ehang, Archer, Volocopter and even Airbus aren't as far along as Joby. "This first aircraft coming off our pilot manufacturing line is a really, really big deal for the company," Joby CEO JoeBen Bevirt told TechCrunch

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United is putting 4K displays and Bluetooth on its planes

United Airlines has struck a deal with Panasonic Avionics that could make flying in economy more bearable. No, it will not magically make the seats wider or the leg room bigger, but it will distract you with a larger, sharper in-flight entertainment display and — some will perhaps find this even more exciting — Bluetooth. The airline has announced that it's installing almost 300,000 units of Panasonic Avionics' Astrova in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens on select new Boeing 787 and Airbus A321XLR aircraft. 

They're seatback displays that use 4K OLED technology, which promises sharper image quality and better contrast ratio than a lot of other IFE systems. The company says Astrova can also provide high fidelity 3D spatial audio through its latest Bluetooth technology. Yep, you won't need to use wired headphones anymore or bring one of those Bluetooth dongles just so you could use your wireless earbuds. Astrova also comes with USB-C ports capable of charging your phones and tablets with 100 watts of DC power. 

As Aviation Week notes, the Boeing 787 and Airbus A321XLR planes are part of United's international fleet, but the airline will reportedly equip its domestic planes with Astrova IFE systems, as well. The displays will be installed under the United Next program, which aims to put a seatback in-flight display at every seat. United plans to provide first class passengers access to 13-inch displays and passengers in economy with 10-inch IFE screens. 

In their announcement, the companies said their agreement will allow United to upgrade the Astrova displays over the coming years. The IFE system uses a modular architecture with a removable peripheral bar that makes it easy to add newer technologies and update its Bluetooth or charging stations. No upgrade will be happening anytime soon, though — the airline isn't scheduled to start installing the in-flight entertainment systems until 2025. 

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Electric airplane towing concept could mean longer zero-emission flights

Magpie Aviation announced a novel new approach to electric airplanes on Monday. Today’s battery technology (including CATL’s new, more efficient one) severely limits the practicality of zero-emission aircraft, leaving clean-energy innovators with two incomplete options: flying a plane full of batteries or one full of people — but not both. So the California-based startup wants to tie them together, extending the rear plane’s range by hundreds of miles.

Towing planes isn’t a new concept, with military use going back to World War II when aerial tows would pull smaller aircraft carrying troops and supplies. But applying it to the world of green transportation is new. Magpie Aviation’s concept uses one or more electric aircraft to act as a tractor plane towing a passenger (or cargo) aircraft using a long cable. The towed plane would have enough battery power for takeoff, landing and flying to alternate airports but not enough to fly the full distance on its own, as reported byAeroTime.

The lead plane would take on the bulk of the traction, and when its battery is depleted, it could hand off towing duties to another electric towing aircraft to extend the rear plane’s range. Magpie CEO Damon Vander Lind summarized toAviation Week, “You get towed until you’ve depleted down to your reserve in the lead aircraft, and then you swap in another tow aircraft.” Although it’s still a regional solution impractical for cross-country or international flights, Vander Lind says it could allow for a trip from San Francisco to Seattle — far beyond the sub-regional distances battery-powered passenger flights can travel on their own.

Magpie says it’s conducted successful small-scale tests using a synthetic fiber rope around 330 ft. long; the company envisions a later commercial version to use nearly mile-long cables. The startup plans to scale up its testing gradually and believes it could be implemented commercially by 2030. It expects advances in battery tech to allow it to tow single-aisle airliners eventually. Magpie suggests that the concept, mainly targeting electric planes, could also work with hybrid, hydrogen and standard aircraft in low-power modes. Additionally, the company says it’s working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with an eye toward certification.

“It sounds kind of crazy, but we kept coming back to it because we couldn’t find any reason why we couldn’t do it,” said Vander Lind. “While our modeling shows that there is an advantage to doing a custom tow aircraft like this, we get a big advantage because the more expensive and critical passenger- and cargo-carrying ‘main aircraft’ has similar requirements to today’s aircraft and so adapts well to existing in-operation and already-in-development platforms. Remember that if we want to hit a zero-carbon 2050 goal, an airliner has a 30-year life, so we’re already at the point where airlines have to think hard about the operating life of the assets that they are buying today.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Travelers used to catch helicopter taxis between Chicago airports

We’ve all been there: sitting in the back of a cab as it crawls through downtown traffic, the clock on the dash mocking you with its inexorable march towards a missed final boarding call and non-refundable ticket fees. Racing to make your flight is an experience nearly as old as commercial aviation itself — and one which has seen repeated solutions attempted throughout the years. Today, companies like Uber and Hyundai or United Airlines and Archer are working to get fleets of eVTOL aircraft to serve as short-hop air taxis, ferrying travelers from city centers to airports while avoiding the mess and hassle of ground-based traffic. In the ‘60s, companies like Chicago Helicopter Airways (CHA) just used a bunch of repurposed US Navy helicopters whose rotors almost never catastrophically failed. Almost.

Following WW2, the US government found itself with a massive surplus of military aircraft — we’re talking North of 150,000 individual planes, helicopters and sundry whirlybirds that all needed somewhere to go that wasn’t storage or a scrap yard. At the same time, an emergent middle class got the chicken in every pot and car in every driveway it was promised, along with all of the traffic and congestion that that particular American dream creates. So, in the early 1950s, the Federal government launched a series of grant programs to promote commuting via helicopter as an intra-city alternative to driving, simultaneously addressing both issues.

The CHA began its existence in post-war America 1948, as a regional mail delivery service operating in greater Chicagoland with a fleet of Sikorsky S-58C and H-34A Choctaw helicopters, but switched to carrying human passengers from 1956 to 1963. Its five-stop route moved between its home base in Winnetka, Illinois and O’Hare and Midway airports, the now defunct Meigs Field, and Gary, Indiana.

For $5 in 1962 money (or just under $50 today) travelers could get from Winnetka at the North end of the city to Terminal 3 at O’Hare, and do it in under ten minutes. Or for $11, sightseers could reserve space aboard a city-wide “Complete Triangle Flight” helicopter tour of Chicago. According to digitized pamphlets archived at TimetableImages, anyone flying to or from “Europe, South or Central America, Alaska or across the Pacific,” on Air France, BOAC Lufthansa, Mexicana, Northwest, PAA or TWA were entitled to a free helo-transfer between Midway and O’Hare.

At its peak in 1960, CHA operated 126 flights and carried 6,000 passengers daily. However, that success did not last long past the tragedy of Flight 698. On July 20th, 1960, 11 passengers and two crew members took off from O’Hare airport, headed for Midway under clear skies. Minutes into the journey, disaster struck when the main rotor failed and came apart. The crew attempted an emergency landing but were thwarted when the tail rotor subsequently broke off and the aircraft nose-dived into Forest Home Cemetery. It burst into flames, killing all 13 aboard.

Just three years later in 1963, CHA’s business had dropped off by half with just 3,000 people opting for helicopter rides to the airport. By 1966, the federal government’s grant programs had run their course and funding quickly dried up, effectively putting an end to CHA’s operations. The company attempted a comeback with limited service in 1969 but shuttered again for good in 1974. 

The CHA wasn't alone in its air commute aspirations. It was joined by similar services in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC and the San Francisco Bay Area. European cities launched their own services as well including Paris, Brussels, Dooseldorf and between the UK's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

Clearly the issue was that the aircraft of the day only had a measly single rotor to provide lift and placed it at risk of major mechanical failure. That’s not an issue with modern VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, such as the six-rotor Bell Nexus, which was to be used in Uber’s now defunct air taxi service, a similarly-specced offering from Volocopter, or the five-rotor version that Boeing tested in 2019.

However, finding reliable funding remains a challenge — even Larry Page’s pet VTOL project, Kitty Hawk, ceased operations in 2022 — which has resulted in much of the technology’s development concentrating amidst existing aerospace corporations. Airbus is working on a VTOL of its own, as is Honda, while United announced plans to buy 500 units outright from VTOL maker Eve Air Mobility to jumpstart its fleet. Joby Aviation, which purchased Uber’s air taxi business in 2020, just received significant investment from Delta as well.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at