Forget these apps and AI, where's my flying car? Ah, here's one with an FAA license
Also: No comment on that choice of name for a wee leccy chopper
America's Federal Aviation Administration has granted limited flight licenses to not one but two companies working on electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft, one of which could even be considered an actual flying car.
The first of these FAA special airworthiness certificates, which grant limited rights to operate an aircraft in US airspace, was awarded to Joby Aviation and its six-rotor electric helicopter that's able to carry four passengers and a pilot for short hops.
Specifically, Joby's certificate was awarded to the first vehicle to come off the company's pilot production assembly line in Marina, California, and means the biz can test its design in anticipation of a 2024 delivery to the US Air Force.
Joby's aircraft, which is able to reach air speeds of 200 mph (322 kmph) and has a range of 150 miles (241 km), was the first eVTOL to be granted military airworthiness approval as part of its participation in the US Air Force's Agility Prime program, which the USAF describes as a collaboration between civilian companies and the military to accelerate eVTOL development.
"Today's achievement is the culmination of years of investment in our processes and technology and it marks a major step on our journey to scaled production," said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby.
Along with its deal with the USAF and other military branches for a 2024 delivery, Joby also signed a deal late last year with Delta Airlines to add Joby aircraft to its fleet for shuttling travelers to and from airports.
Joby said it's already passed stages one and two of the five-step FAA clearance process for commercial flights, and claims to be the first eVTOL maker in the United States to get this far. Joby said it's also on its way to completing stage three, and will increasingly be focusing on the "testing and analysis" required to meet stage 4 approval.
"We have a clear path to aircraft type certification and expect to launch commercial passenger operations in 2025," a Joby rep told us.
Earlier this month, the FAA released guidelines for defining eVTOL pilot licensing requirements, so while Joby's goal of beginning commercial passenger operations in 2025 may seem ambitious, the feds are at least entertaining the possibility they'll make it.
Now, what's that about a flying car?
Joby's more traditional eVTOL design isn't the only craft getting a special airworthiness certificate from the FAA – self-described "flying car" maker Alef Aeronautics was also granted limited flight permissions this week.
If we're going purely based on form factor, the Alef Model A is certainly a flying car. It is a vehicle that can be driven along a road or piloted in the sky.
It has the shape and dimensions of a full-sized sports car, yet is anything but – at least as shown in simulated videos and as revealed in October when the company unveiled its Model A prototype.
Instead of a solid body, the Alef Model A is made of a mesh, and carries eight rotors that the company claims are more than enough to fly at a cruising speed of 110 mph (177 kmph) with a maximum range of 110 miles, or 200 miles on the ground.
Here's one of the trippiest parts of the Alef Model A: its cockpit, which is able to hold up to two people, is on a double-axis gimbal that the entirety of the car body rotates around during flight.
Of course, with anything so out there that it looks more like a Snapchat selfie drone than a flight-capable vehicle, there are bound to be some catches.
Like, for instance, the fact that its mesh body probably wouldn't do too well in a high-speed collision. Not to worry, though: the Model A is classified as a low-speed road vehicle which, under US federal regulations, means the Model A is limited to just 25 or 35 mph (40 to 56 kmph), rules for which vary by state. If you want to go faster, Alef seems to assume you'll take to the skies.
Given the entirety of the vehicle is one giant wing, it also needs to be light – Alef told us the weight capacity in the Model A prototype is limited to just 250 pounds (113 kg, or 17 st, 12 lbs), including occupants and cargo. The manufacturer told us it hopes to increase that before going to market with the Model A in late 2025.
Alef said in its press materials that it has been operating full-sized prototypes since 2019, but it hasn't released any videos of its test craft in operation nor its prototype Model A – everything included in its available media is simulated. When we asked Alef if it had any videos of the actual craft in motion, the spinners demurred, telling us its FAA certificate was the first step in getting to public tests.
"Now we can record a publicly available video of full-size prototypes driving and flying. Please stay tuned for our upcoming press release with video in upcoming months," Alef's media team told The Register.
The spokesperson added that Alef had shown prototypes and early models off during private press events, some of which were included in a Forbes article from shortly after the company left stealth in October of last year, but didn't offer any images or video.
The company was also tight-lipped on what flight permissions the FAA granted with its certificate, telling us the details were "obviously private" and "limited by location and purpose."
If four years of flying without any public demonstration, a lack of details, and question-avoiding hasn't put you off, you can now reserve your very own Alef Model A alongside the "over 440" people who've done so since October.
It'll set you back, though: the expected sticker price when the Model A arrives – in Q4 of 2025, no less – is a whopping $299,999. ®