Alef Aeronautics unveiled a prototype of its first Alef flying car, a $300,000 vehicle that the company hopes will allow wealthy commuters to drive on the highway and in traffic starting in 2025, CNET reported. Soar on.
The Alef Model A is designed to have a range of 200 miles on the ground and a range of 110 miles in the air. The startup has also begun taking orders for the first models on its website.
The company showed a prototype of the Alef Model A and two flying prototypes called Alef Zero at a press conference at Draper University in San Mateo, California, where one of the company’s two Silicon Valley design centers is located. alef CEO Jim Dukhovny said in an interview that the Model A will be fitted with eight propellers and should be ready for its first flight in the next few months, and could eventually launch in 2030 with a $35,000 Model Z that can be operated with only a drone license.
The company is one of many aerospace companies looking to revolutionize transportation with electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and autonomous pilot technology. But while the engineering challenges are significant, the regulatory challenges are perhaps even greater, as citizens, the Federal Aviation Administration and local governments struggle with the idea of hundreds of personal aircraft and possible delivery drones plying the skies.
Dukhovny said Alef flying cars will revolutionize transportation, pointing to the flying cars in the “Back to the Future” and “Matrix” movies and the “Jason Family” cartoon. A video shown during the event showed an animation of dozens of flying cars flowing in the air lanes over San Francisco.
Dukhovny said, “Almost all visions of the future are exactly the same: flying cars. We could solve virtually every transportation problem in the world in the next hundred years.”
Hybrid aircraft design
As designed, the battery-powered machine Alef will take off vertically using eight propellers housed in a fuselage about the size of a large sedan. One or two passengers sit inside a “bubble,” but most of the interior of the car’s mesh top is just air.
This vertical takeoff technology is well-established in the drone industry, and the company has already tested it with two of its Alef Zero prototypes.
What comes next, tested so far only with smaller-scale prototypes, is more unusual but crucial to the aircraft’s design. The fuselage rotates 90 degrees around its long axis, shifting from flying upward to flying forward. As it rotates, one side of the fuselage becomes the top wing and the other the bottom wing.
This is an ambitious project. Hybrid designs are flexible, but they are not as good as special-purpose designs. A flying car would be worse at driving than a car, and worse at flying than an airplane, which doesn’t have to worry about steering, brakes and fenders on the highway.
But Alef is ambitious, with two teams working on parallel designs to try to speed up development, one in San Mateo and one in Santa Clara, the company’s headquarters further south in Silicon Valley.
And it wants to start with a more modest capability than flying dozens of miles: short jumps that can briefly lift the plane over problem areas on the road.
The first Alef Model A should have a payload of about 200 pounds, including passengers and luggage, said Constantine Kisly, the company’s director of engineering and co-founder. He noted that most commuter vehicles carry only one passenger, but he is also working on a two-passenger design that would double the payload.
The company also wants to build an Alef design powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, said Oleg Petrov, another engineer and company co-founder. That should have a better range, he said, of 400 miles.
Petrov said the company has not tested a pivot point from upward takeoff to horizontal flight with a human passenger. That’s much more complicated and risky and will come after the company raises another round of funding. Tim Draper, a high-profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist who also has funded electric car maker Tesla, was an early investor in Alef.
The company hopes that the Alef Z could eventually have a range of 200 miles in flight and 400 miles on the road and that it could carry four to six passengers.