Kitty Hawk, the electric aviation startup founded and led by “the 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 in a LinkedIn post that it was shutting down.
“We have made the decision to discontinue Kittyhawk. We are still working on the details for the next one,” the social media posts said.
Efforts to reach Tran 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 Page support initially under the name Zee.Aero. Page had tapped Tran, a longtime friend and adviser who co-founded X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, to lead the company.
Kitty Hawk operated largely in secret for years—except for the occasional media announcement—until mid-decade, when it introduced its Flyer aircraft. The single-seat, all-electric vehicle with vertical takeoff and landing was the company’s inaugural moonshot for developing an ultralight electric flying car designed for use by anyone.
Kitty Hawk has built and operated 111 Flyer aircraft and flown more than 25,000 successful manned and unmanned flights with its fleet. However, this program was closed in June 2020 – and approx 70 employees have been laid off — to make way for the Heaviside, a more capable, quieter and once-secret electric plane known as the H2 that can fly and land anywhere autonomously. Heaviside has been in development since 2015, but was not publicly revealed until 2019 TechCrunch Disrupt conference.
Kitty Hawk had at least one other community project called Coraa two-person autonomous flying taxi that was originally revealed in 2018. Cora was spun off in late 2019 in joint venture with Boeing. The joint venture, now called Wisk, is trying to develop and commercialize electric, flying air taxis. In early 2022, Boeing invested another $450 million in Wisk.
After the Flyer was shut down and Cora separated, Kitty Hawk’s only mission was the Heaviside and reportedly another larger version of the plane. HVSD, which is named after the famous 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 emerged and also made progress. Internal disagreements between Trun 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 then.
Kitty Hawk reached another milestone in 2021 when it demonstrated a visual line of sight flight in Ohio. The demonstration was part of a joint effort with the FAA, the Air Force and SkyVision, a ground-based radar service. By then, the company had built more than 16 H2 cars.
By 2022, however, the mission was less clear. Sources told TechCrunch that Kitty Hawk is working on Heaviside in 2022. However, its website hinted at another milestone for the company. Kitty Hawk said it is working on its first commercial air taxi, a vehicle built from the H2 platform that will be small, light and quiet and remotely piloted.