Kitty Hawk, the electric aviation startup founded by ‘godfather of self-driving cars’ Sebastian Thrun and backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is shutting down.
The company said in a tweet and on a LinkedIn post that it is shutting down.
“We have decided to cut down on Kittyhawk. We are still working on the details of what comes next,” the social media posts said.
Attempts to reach Thrun or a company spokesperson were unsuccessful. TechCrunch will update the article if more information becomes available.
Kitty Hawk was founded in 2010 by Thrun with backing from the original Page as Zee.Aero. Page enlisted Thrun, a longtime friend and mentor and co-founder of X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, to lead the company.
Kitty Hawk operated mostly in secrecy for many years – with the exception of occasional media coverage – until the mid-decade when it introduced its Flyer. The all-electric, single-seat vertical take-off and landing vehicle is the company’s first step towards developing an ultra-lightweight electric flying car designed for everyone’s use.
Kitty Hawk has built and flown 111 Flyers and has made more than 25,000 successful crew and unmanned flights with her fleet. However, that program was closed in June 2020 – and about 70 employees were laid off – to make room for the Heaviside, a more capable, quieter and once secret electric plane called the H2 that can fly and land anywhere autonomously. Heaviside has been in development since 2015, but it was not publicly disclosed until TechCrunch Disrupt Conference 2019.
Kitty Hawk has had at least one other public project called Coraa self-propelled flying taxi for two, first revealed in 2018. Cora was spun off at the end of 2019 into one joint venture with Boeing. The venture, now called Wisk, is trying to develop and commercialize electric, self-flying taxis. In early 2022, Boeing invested a $450 million into Wisk.
With the Flyer closed and Cora leaving, Kitty Hawk’s only mission was to Heaviside and was supposed to be a larger version of the plane. HVSD, named after renowned physicist and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, is Kitty Hawk’s third act.
As the program progressed, competitors such as Beta Technologies, Joby Aviation, Lilium and Volocopter also appeared and also made progress. Internal conflicts between Thrun and the head of the Heaviside program, physicist and electrical engineer Damon Vander Lind, added to the pressure. Lind was fired in May 2021, Forbes reported at the time.
Kitty Hawk hits another major milestone in 2021 when it demonstrates an out-of-sight flight over Ohio. The demo is part of a joint effort with the FAA, the Air Force, and SkyVision, a ground-based radar service. Up to that point, the company had built more than 16 H2 vehicles.
By 2022, however, the mission is less clear. Sources told TechCrunch that Kitty Hawk works on Heaviside in 2022. Its website, however, hints at another phase of the company. Kitty Hawk says it is working on its first commercial air taxi, a vehicle built on the H2 platform that will be small, light and quiet and remotely controlled.