Here’s An Electric Drone You Can Fly In That Actually Might Make Some Sense

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Some of the biggest news in aviation right now is what new companies are building some type of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and almost all of them make big claims to revolutionize mobility. But a lot of them either don’t exist or don’t even come close to their claims. A company called Air is making the same claims as everyone else, yet for once, the product is actually practical.

Air was founded in 2018 as a company called Polarity Mobility. Back then, the Israel-based company immediately got to work on a personal electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL).

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This space is crowded with competition from Opener, Jetson Aero, SkyDrive, Lift, Next, HoverSurf, and many more. All of these companies bill themselves as the future of transportation and some go as far as to claim that their flavor of eVTOL will make “everyone” a pilot.

As I’ve explained before, none of these companies have thus far fulfilled their lofty promises. Most of the aforementioned aircraft have a flight time of under 30 minutes and can carry no more than 200 pounds, including the pilot. And the limitations go on from there, as these machines carry just a single occupant, cannot fly at night, have no payload outside of the pilot, and cannot legally be flown anywhere near populations of people. Since most of them fall into the FAA’s ultralight rules, their pilots aren’t trained, either.

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Jetson Aero

These vehicles are often billed as “flying cars,” but they’re really not. You aren’t flying one of these to your office. Heck, you can’t even take one for a grocery run. And with prices hanging around six figures, the list of people who can afford them doesn’t encompass everyone by any means. That makes them more flying toys than a revolution.

And flying toys are great! Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fly an Opener Blackfly or a Jetson One. Seeing the Blackfly at Oshkosh made my mouth drop. But I am too heavy to fly in any of these ultralight eVTOLs.

That’s where Air comes in with its Air One.

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Air’s press release is not any different than those aforementioned companies, reading:

“Everybody wants to fly, and with AIR, they finally can. We’re creating a fun and functional personal airEVs that will blaze a path towards a new era of air mobility accessible to everyone.”

Now, let me immediately get this out of the way: Air’s claim is not exactly true. Its eVTOL will require its operator to have a pilot license. Which, in addition to its expected $150,000 price, makes the claim of “everybody” is a stretch. But if you look past the marketing jargon I think there’s something really neat here.

Air decided to make its eVTOL bigger, faster, and with a greater carrying capacity than the aforementioned ultralights. The company says that the One eVTOL can fly up to 155 mph, cruise at 100 mph, and stay in the sky for one hour. And when it’s parked, its wings fold so it can fit in some garages.

The One lifts into the sky using eight electric motors that add up to 771 total horsepower. Air’s reps tell me that means that the One can rocket to 1,000 feet above ground level in 30 seconds or less.

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And the way it flies is like a drone. Forward motion comes from tilting the aircraft forward. That’s why the cockpit features a huge lower window. In forward flight, you’ll be looking through the canopy. But while hovering, that big lower window gives you sight of what’s going on.

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Air is baking in a lot of safety, too. It has a ballistic parachute system and redundant computer systems. The company’s reps tell me that it will fly even if four motors fail. Well, so long as those four motors aren’t all on the same side.

But my favorite part is the One’s usable load. While an ultralight eVTOL has to get by with just 200 pounds, this thing can haul two people and luggage adding up to 550 pounds. For reference, that’s just ten fewer pounds of payload than a new Cessna 172 Skyhawk carrying a full load of fuel.

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Though, as I said before, endurance is just one hour, or far shorter than the Cessna. A tradeoff is that this is less than half of the cost of a new Skyhawk. And, at least Air says that this can charge from zero percent to 100 percent in one hour.

Another thing that I like is that Air should have more freedom than an ultralight. The company is seeking FAA certification, but it’s not clear what it will be certified as. However, not being an ultralight means that the craft’s owner might be able to fly it from heliport to heliport between cities, which you currently cannot do with an ultralight eVTOL.

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And of course, the pilot of this will be someone who already has training.

It also doesn’t appear to be completely vaporware, either. Air already has a full-size prototype that can hover. The company expects full flight testing and certification next year with sales beginning in 2024. I just wish that the marketing of these machines were closer to reality. Still, hopefully we get to see these in the sky and yours truly can tell you how they fly.

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22 Responses

  1. Okay, let’s get the reality check out of the way first:
    eVTOLs are the current “hot thing” for aviation VCs, and a ton of companies have sprung up to fill the niche. I have coworkers who jumped over to work at them. I’ve had job offers at many of them. Every trade publication I read is full of breathy articles about the next big thing in eVTOLs.

    Calling it now, exactly zero will be successful, for very simple and boring reasons of physics and aviation safety regulations.

    I could post a long screed about safety reserves, power usage for flight vs driving in an electric vehicle, the demands made of aviation batteries with high discharge rates vs high density, etc, etc, etc, but I’ll just link to someone who already has:

    https://leehamnews.com/category/bjorns-corner/page/2/

    Parts 26-34 of that series are very reasonable, rational dissections of the immense problems with eVTOLS, as told by an aerospace engineer and pilot.

    As applicable to this particular bird, here’s some quick notes:

    “expected $150,000 price” – double that number and add $50k for good measure

    “One eVTOL can fly up to 155 mph, cruise at 100 mph, and stay in the sky for one hour.” – a one hour maximum endurance, when accounting for the required safety reserves plus the “I don’t want to die” fudge factor that all safe pilots throw in, equals something like 20 minutes actual flight time. If you are hammering at 155 mph after climb out, it’s probably more like 5 minutes.

    “this thing can haul two people and luggage adding up to 550 pounds”- oops, there goes that 1 hour endurance.

    Sorry, I’m just grouchy about this entire vaporware niche market getting a ton of press and VC cash that could be better spent elsewhere.

    Want an actually innovative product in the small aircraft market, that would actually change how people fly?:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Celera_500L

    Funky bullet plane, same range and speed as a 737, but with the passenger capacity and gas mileage of your average crossover. Is actually undergoing flight testing right now, with an already certified power plant. Can land at tiny airports, just like a Cessna.

    1. Sorry for getting political, I guess, but since we’re talking about maybe another VC-vaporware gold rush with these, it’s hard not to despair that these are the baubles we get instead of universal healthcare or whatever. Yes, I know that’s reductive, but it still pisses me off

    1. 3D traffic jams are often brought up as reason we will “never have flying cars” but the reality is that we are a long way off from that. These “flying cars” (which aren’t, but whatever) are going to be the plaything of the very very rich for the foreseeable future, whether that’s as vehicles owned or “for hire.” There simply won’t be enough of them in the air to cause problems like the guy in the 2001 Chrysler shitmobile causes for everyone on I95 S.

  2. There will never truly be flying cars for the simple reason that using energy to hold you up is a whole lot less efficient than using the ground to hold you up. That’s not even considering air traffic control. With that said, there are still a bunch of use cases for a vehicle like this. Besides the inter-city taxis you mentioned, there’s uses like search & rescue, and other cases we might currently use a regular helicopter for.

  3. Thinking of a diagram I saw a while back, possibly on the verge, that illustrated why battery electric aircraft was a much harder engineering problem than BEVs due to weight/energy density.

    This may be a dumb question, but is anyone working on hydrogen VTOL or similar? Is that conceptually unworkable or is battery electric just more, I dunno, zeitgeisty?

    1. IIRC the energy density of hydrogen isn’t best for aero apps, a lot of it needs to be burned to make enough power and volumetrically it’s problematic to store and carry on the plane. The fuel tanks can only get so big and so pressurized before the flyboys start giving them side eye.

    1. Easier to fly mostly,with the computer doing all the work.
      Until it stops flying that is.Then it turns into a brick, whereas a chopper can land even without an engine.
      This has a parachute but i’m far from convinced that makes it safer.

  4. Here we go again.Another stupid cant-fly-on-failure drone.
    On this thing a parachute is not another layer of safety- it’s the only thing stopping you from 100% certain death.At least choppers and planes can land without power.
    Better pack that chute right.
    Better still,wear one as well

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