Joby Aviation has begun testing at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC), the world’s largest wind tunnel facility, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

The 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 — widely considered to be the gold standard for aircraft aerodynamics and performance — was instrumental in the development of a range of iconic vehicles, including the space shuttle, the V-22 Osprey, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and a number of next-generation helicopters.

Joby is believed to be the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company to test its propeller in the NFAC’s 40-by-80 foot wind tunnel.

Critical part of programme

“Testing is a critical part of our aircraft programme 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,” said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby.

“This facility helped introduce historic aircraft to the world, and now it’s doing the same for the next generation of sustainable aviation.”

Lt Col Tom Meagher, lead for AFWERX Prime programmes, commented: “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 utilizing unique government test resources and infrastructure critical to enabling industry progression.”

Tilt angles and speeds

The test campaign will cover all tilt angles and speeds through the expected flight envelope, providing Joby with consistent and high-fidelity data on the performance, loads, and acoustics of its propeller systems in support of its certification program with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Working in partnership with the U.S. 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, and a representative wing section of the Joby aircraft allows careful analysis of aerodynamic interference effects.
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