Joby begins propellor testing at NASA’s Ames wind tunnel


Joby Aviation has begun testing its propellors at the world’s largest wind tunnel facility at NASA’s Ames Research Centre.

The National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC), managed by the US Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Complex, contains the two largest operational wind tunnels in the world.

Data from propeller testing in the NFAC has been key in developing vehicles including the space shuttle, the V-22 Osprey and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Joby is the first commercial eVTOL company to test its propeller in the NFAC’s 40-by-80ft (12-by-24m) wind tunnel.

JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby, said: “Testing is a critical part of our aircraft program and the opportunity to gather data on the performance of our propellers in one of the world’s largest wind tunnels is an exciting step toward commercialisation. This facility helped introduce historic aircraft to the world, and now it’s doing the same for the next generation of sustainable aviation.”

The tests will cover all tilt angles and speeds through the expected flight envelope, providing Joby with data on the performance, loads, and acoustics of its propeller systems. All of which feeds directly into its FAA certification programme.

Working in partnership with the US Air Force and NASA, Joby is installing a production-intent electric propulsion unit and propeller assembly in the wind tunnel mounted to a six-degree-of-freedom force and moment balance to capture performance data. The blades are instrumented to measure the loads experienced while rotating, whilst a wing section of the aircraft will allow for analysis of the impact of aerodynamic interference. The full test campaign is expected to take several months to complete. 

Lt Col Tom Meagher, lead for AFWERX Prime programs, said: “A cornerstone of the AFWERX Agility Prime program is fostering interagency partnerships and collaboration to progress the advanced air mobility segment. The NFAC testing is a perfect example of utilising unique government test resources and infrastructure critical to enabling industry progression.”

Joby and NASA have partnered before, including the design of the agency’s all-electric X-57 Maxwell prototype and a two-week acoustic testing programme in 2022 as part of NASA’s AAM National Campaign.

Joby expects to launch commercial aerial ridesharing services in the US in 2025. Last week, the firm began final assembly of its production-conforming aircraft, in another first for the eVTOL industry it said. Joby expects the aircraft to begin flight testing within six months. Didier Papadopoulos, Head of Aircraft OEM at Joby, said: “Beginning final assembly of our first production-conforming aircraft is an incredible achievement for the Joby team.