Kitty Hawk, an electric aircraft startup founded and led by Sebastian Thrun, known as the “godfather of self-driving cars,” and backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, is shutting down.
The company said in a tweet and a LinkedIn post that it was scaling back its operations.
“We have made the decision to close Kitty Hawk. We are still working on the following details,” the social media post read.
Attempts to contact Thrun or a company spokesperson have been unsuccessful. TechCrunch will update the article when more information is provided.
Kitty Hawk was founded in Thrun in 2010. Initially under the name Zee.Aero and backed by Page. Paige was a longtime friend and advisor to Alphabet’s moonshot factory, where he co-founded X. He had Thrun head the company.
Except for the occasional media scoop, Kitty Hawk operated mostly undercover for years until the mid-1990s when it introduced the Flyer aircraft. It was the company’s first moonshot to develop an ultra-lightweight electric flying car designed to be used in
Kitty Hawk has built and flown 111 Flyer aircraft and completed over 25,000 successful manned and unmanned flights.However, that program closed in June 2020 — and about 70 employees were laid off — Heaviside, known as the H2, was a smarter, quieter, once-secret electric aircraft that could fly and land autonomously anywhere. Heaviside has been in development since 2015, but was not announced until it was released. 2019 TechCrunch Disrupt Conference.
Kitty Hawk had at least one other public project called colais a two-seater autonomous flying taxi that was first unveiled in 2018. Cora was spun off in his late 2019, Joint venture with BoeingThe joint venture, now named Wisk, is attempting to develop and commercialize an electric self-flying air taxi. In early 2022, Boeing made another investment. $450 million for Wisk.
With the Flyer closed and Cora spun off, Kitty Hawk’s only mission was Heaviside, reportedly another, larger version of the aircraft. Named after the famous physicist and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside, his HVSD is the third act of Kitty Hawk.
Competitors such as Beta Technologies, Joby Aviation, Lilium and Volocopter have also emerged and made progress as the program progressed. Infighting between Thrun and Heaviside’s program leader, his Damon Vander Lind, a physicist and electrical engineer, added to the pressure. Lind was fired in May 2021, Forbes reported at the time.
Kitty Hawk hit another milestone in 2021 when it demonstrated flight beyond sight in Ohio. The demo was part of his collaboration with the FAA, Air Force and Ground Radar Service, SkyVision. By then, the company had built over 16 of his H2 cars.
But by 2022, its mission is no longer clear. A source told TechCrunch that Kitty Hawk is working on Heaviside in 2022. But his website for the company hinted that the company was in a different phase. Kitty Hawk said it is working on its first commercial air taxi. It’s a small, lightweight, quiet, remotely piloted vehicle built from the H2 platform.