Heaviside takes flight

The Kitty Hawk Heaviside has a striking planform of forward-swept wings, canards and eight engines. Kitty Hawk

A distinctive new aircraft flew in Californian skies in October, an unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system called the Heaviside. A video released by its manufacturer, the start-up company Kitty Hawk, shows a striking single-seater registered N221HV with forward-swept wings and canard foreplanes taking off, flying in a valley and landing.

Images of electric VTOL aircraft are usually CGIs or still photos, but the video released by Kitty Hawk shows the Heaviside in forward flight and manoeuvring. Few specifics about the system have been released, however, and when AIR International asked for more information a spokesperson told us it would not be sharing any details at this time.

Kitty Hawk’s marketing says the Heaviside is designed “to free people from traffic”. With the video showing the system taking off from and landing on a small tarmac pad, the idea is clearly to provide a personal air transport vehicle for point-to-point travel, able to operate in limited confines and without any supporting infrastructure. The company says the aircraft is roughly 100 times quieter than a regular helicopter and uses less than half the energy of a car. It is named after the 19th century English physicist and engineer Oliver Heaviside.

According to an article by TechCrunch, which broke the story of the Heaviside’s first flight, the system has a 20ft (6m) wingspan. Six of its eight rotors are mounted on the forwardfacing wing and two on the canards. The system has gone from concept to flying prototype in two years. Earlier this year, Boeing announced it would work with Kitty Hawk to develop a twoseat autonomous air taxi, Cora. Kitty Hawk has also produced a single-seat all-electric VTOL aircraft, the Flyer.

Forward-swept wings are unusual, with the configuration regarded as relatively impractical, given the angles of wing-sweep necessary for high-speed flight. Aircraft with forward-swept wings have mainly been experimental: for example, the two Grumman X-29 technology demonstrators built in 1984 and the Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut from 1997. Mark Broadbent