Flying cars

July 19, 2023  - By

The U.S. government has visibly and physically conveyed its interest in getting air taxis into operation, through a visit of 70 people — attached to the newly formed Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Coordination group — to Archer Aviation. The group talked with the executives of the company developing the “Midnight’ air-taxi aircraft and watched a flight test.

The AAM group includes members from leading government agencies concerned with making and keeping this segment of aviation successful, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense (DOD) and other agencies.

AAM group visits Archer Aviation. (Image: Archer Aviation)

AAM group visits Archer Aviation. (Image: Archer Aviation)

Gathering the views of Archer and other electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) developer executives should be an essential part of the AAM group’s information collection task. And while it’s great to see that the interagency group has every intention of promoting the AAM concept of air taxis, it would perhaps be better if the group also had access to representatives of manufacturers, developers, and those with UAS experience. It’s clear that we need to start by spreading the word, but also by including people in the group who have dedicated themselves to bringing these capabilities to market — that may make the process more efficient.

Along the way, it may also help to understand that the processes we have used in the past to get airframes like this into passenger carrying operations might not work well with this new industry. It’s understandable that it should take a lengthy period to assess, verify, qualify and certify such vehicles in the name of safety, but if companies run out of cash and fold in the interim — which is highly likely with this “start-up industry” — then shouldn’t we be looking for a better way to get these guys off the ground?

No one wants safety to be sacrificed, but could there be some way to streamline, speed up, or simplify the process without skipping essential steps — a way to get new technology into use before it’s obsolete, or a lack of start-up money dooms its progress? The forecast for the economy in the near future is in the billions of dollars. So, providing funding to improve the current processes does make sense. DOD has started to put serious effort into speeding up its acquisition process and has empowered the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to find quicker ways to bring commercial technologies into defense.

The processes used to bring new technologies into use are tried and proven, but they are lengthy. In defense, if our opposition can field things quicker than we do, they have an edge in strategy, tactics and a higher probability of winning in battle. These countries are using the same approaches in the commercial world too, and we need to be wary that they may also have a greater chance of winning the “economic war.”

Nevertheless, Archer in California and others such as Joby, also in California, and Liliam in Germany, plod on through varying stages of FAA and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification paths. An example of the effort that a company has been required to put into fulfilling the requirements of a certification agency is that of Lilium, which first applied for its Design Organization Approval (DOA) in 2017, is still churning through the qualification efforts and does not expect approval until 2025. Of course, the answer is “Don’t get on the certification ‘hamster-wheel’ unless you can stand the journey.” However, we do want these systems and vehicles to make it in order to overcome some of the traffic nightmare that we are living through in our major cities and to contribute to the growth in the economy.

Meanwhile, the great hope (even expectation) of the “flying car” is being kept alive by Doroni in Miami with its two seat H1 eVTOL. Having largely burnt through its $3.6 million StartEngine launch money, Doroni is looking for its second round of funding to build more prototypes and join the certification race. However, other single seat eVTOL flying cars have taken the easier route to certify under the FAA Ultralight category.

Doroni H1 prototype. (Image: Doroni)

Doroni H1 prototype. (Image: Doroni)

The H1 has semi-autonomous capability, which Doroni claims will make its eVTOL easy to fly, and allow general sales to any car driver. With air bags, an aerodynamic fuselage — which generates lift — 10 independent propulsion systems (four double prop ducted fans and two forward thrust props), an airframe that can behave as a parachute and “dissipate energy” in case of a crash, and landing gear, the H1 also has multiple independent batteries — all aimed at safety, which will help make it through certification verification. So, if you happen to have the $250,000 proposed sale price and are willing to wait on the completion of FAA certification, you could own your own “flying car.”

Doroni just announced that they have already made 50 test flights within their manufacturing facility along that test and qualification road.

Meanwhile, Ryse Aerotech in Ohio, recently demonstrated a manned test flight of its single seat Recon eVTOL — billed as an aid to farmers, with a top speed around 58 mph, a range of about 25 miles and with the right FAA clearance it could even reach an altitude of 700 ft — an airborne ATV for inspecting crops and the like.

Recon manned test flight in June 2023. (Image: Ryse Aerotech)

Recon manned test flight in June 2023. (Image: Ryse Aerotech)

The path to market that Ryse has selected, however, should see more vehicles in earlier use than Doroni’s H1. All you may need is a driver’s license to take off in a Recon because it’s qualified as an Ultralight craft — just buy and fly. Beware, you cannot fly anywhere near an airport or after dark. FAA has restrictions on Ultralight craft.

So, progress on the semi-autonomous “flying-car” front and a plea to consider the economic benefits and to look to how to improve the efficiency of the existing certification process — not a request to cut corners, rather a request to speed up the processes and save this start-up industry before it goes broke.

About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).