If you thought autonomous cars were freaking out some older drivers, wait until you hear the one about autonomous flights. Boeing is acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences, a company we mentioned here a little while back. This is throwing serious weight into the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) industry.
Boeing Acquires Aurora Flight Sciences
Boeing acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences is a serious hint as to what the company is aiming for and where the industry is heading. Aurora Flight Sciences is a company that has focused on autonomous flight systems and is placing itself as a world-class innovator, developer, and manufacturer of advanced aerospace platforms. What this also means is that they aim to bring robot aircraft and vehicles to reality. By acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing hopes it will become a leader in autonomous-flying vehicles for both military and commercial use.
Who Is Aurora Flight Sciences?
Officially known as Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, it is headquartered in Manassas, Virginia. It includes over 550 employees and operates in 6 states. It also has a research and development center located near MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts; manufacturing facilities in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and Columbus, Mississippi; and offices in Dayton, Ohio, Mountain View, California, and Luzern, Switzerland. It was founded in 1989 and has been working on innovative aircraft frames and automated systems since.
So far, we know Aurora Flight Sciences has been developing its LightningStrike XV-24A, which is a VTOL craft designed as an autonomous military aircraft. The reason why it is destined for the military is that it is funded by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force (USAF). Earlier this year, Aurora Flight Sciences ran a series of successful test flights. That showed its XV-24A Demonstrator Craft, a smaller version of the final product, weighing in at just 325 lb. This is a fraction of the 12,000 lb final weight of a full-sized XV-24A, which was formerly known as the X-Plane. Most VTOL companies, as well as other flying taxi concepts, fly miniature proof-of-concepts before flying the final-scale versions.
Going back to the acquisition, Aurora Flight Sciences will continue to be an independent subsidiary of Boeing. It will continue to focus on designing and producing autonomous aircraft, as well as a growing family of similar products. It operates with 5 core beliefs — Autonomy, Electric Propulsion, Advanced Manufacturing, Operations in the NAS, and Advanced Aircraft Design.
It hopes its XV-24A addition cements its place as a leader in that growing industry. You can download its brochure here.
What The Boeing Acquisition Of Aurora Flight Sciences Means
The Boeing acquisition of Aurora Flight Sciences means Boeing is still trying to solidify its presence in the military field, something that has been challenged repeatedly by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed. Strangely enough, Aurora Flight Sciences is also a Northrop Grumman’s ‘Platinum Source’ supplier. It will be interesting to see how Boeing resolves this seeming conflict of interest. But Boeing isn’t the only major aerospace company making big bets on VTOLs. Another well-known rival, Airbus, has also revealed that it is still on track to start testing its first electric flying cars beginning next year. It hopes to have developed and deployed some of its autonomous aerial taxi vehicles by then, an audacious bet.
According to Greg Hyslop, CTO and senior vice president of Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology: “The combined strength and innovation of our teams will advance the development of autonomy for our commercial and military systems. Together, these talented teams will open new markets with transformational technologies.”
Autonomous aircraft and similar systems mean using perception, machine learning, and advanced flight control systems that Aurora Flight Sciences has been designing, producing, and flying with more than 30 unmanned air vehicles flights. Recently, Aurora Flight Sciences has focused on electric propulsion for aircraft and has collaborated with Boeing on the rapid prototyping of its innovative aircraft and structural assemblies.
According to John Langford, Aurora founder and CEO: “Since its inception, Aurora has been focused on the development of innovative aircraft that leverage autonomy to make aircraft smarter. As an integral part of Boeing, our pioneered technologies of long-endurance aircraft, robotic co-pilots, and autonomous electric VTOLs will be transitioned into world-class products for the global infrastructure.”
Terms & Conditions of Boeing Acquiring Aurora Flight Sciences Company
Although terms of the agreement have not been fully disclosed yet, it is anticipated to close following the receipt of customary regulatory approvals. Boeing will continue its financial guidance nonetheless. Once acquired, Aurora Flight Sciences will roll into the Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology division and will get only a slight variation on its name — Aurora Flight Sciences, A Boeing Company — in a move to retain its independent operating model.
Boeing’s Latest Acquisition — Final Thoughts
Although the press release refers to this acquisition of Aurora Flight Sciences as being military and commercial, we can assume the first buyers and implementations will be military. We can only hope it’s commercial use will come down to us faster than the usual trickle. Nonetheless, it is an important step forward for the VTOL industry. Another global player, a household name like Boeing, buying up Aurora Flight Sciences is a sign that this is a serious industry — not just fun & games.
Airbus, we can’t wait to hear from you next. In the meantime, Star Wars training spheres anyone?