A Silicon Valley startup called Opener is taking the wraps off a single-seat, all-electric flying vehicle known as BlackFly, which the company says will require no formal licensing in the U.S.
“The future of aviation begins today,” Alan Eustace, a former Google executive (and record-setting free-fall skyjumper) who is now a director at Opener, said in a news release. “The dream of flight, which was so difficult and expensive to obtain, will soon be within the reach of millions. Opener is putting the fun back into flying and opening up a new world of possibilities.”
Opener says a developmental version of the tandem-wing, eight-rotor craft has gone into the air more than 1,400 times, with the total distance flown exceeding 12,000 miles.
The vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft is flown with a joystick, has a pushbutton “Return-to-Home” system for autonomous flight back to its base, and can be outfitted with an emergency parachute.
“Safety has been our primary driving goal in the development of this new technology,” Opener CEO Marcus Leng said. “Opener will be introducing this innovation in a controlled and responsible manner. Even though not required by FAA regulations, BlackFly operators will be required to successfully complete the FAA Private Pilot written examination and also complete company-mandated vehicle familiarization and operator training.”
In an interview with CBS, Leng said Opener is aiming to put BlackFly on the market next year for the “price of an SUV.”
Opener said BlackFly is designed primarily to operate from small grassy areas and can travel distances of up to 25 miles at a speed of 62 mph, in accordance with U.S. regulatory restrictions. The batteries can be recharged in as little as 25 minutes.
BlackFly, which has been in stealth mode for the past nine years, joins a crowded market for personal air vehicles. Other players include Airbus’ Vahana, Uber and its aviation partners, Joby Aviation, Terrafugia, VerdeGo Aero, Kitty Hawk, China’s EHang, Switzerland’s Passenger Drone, Germany’s Volocopter and Lilium, Slovakia’s AeroMobil and Japan’s Cartivator Project.
Last year, the Boeing Co. acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, one of Uber’s air-taxi partners. Boeing is also the main sponsor of a $2 million grass-roots competition for personal air vehicles called the GoFly Prize. In March, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said personal air vehicles, also known as air taxis or flying cars “will happen faster than any of us understand.”
Opener says its vehicles will be on display later this month at the 2018 EAA AirVenture Convention in Oshkosh, Wis. AirVenture attendees will also get the chance to experience a BlackFly flight in virtual reality.