The idea of a car turning into an airplane in three minutes sounds like a dream. Imagine you are driving during rush hour. You’ll be notified of incoming traffic and shape-shift into a plane taking to the skies, overtaking commuter delays, toll bridges and construction delays – suck it, stalemate! But the reality of the flying car (also called air car) is a lot less spontaneous and a lot less flexible.
And I’m here to burst your bubble after the news of Samson Sky’s successful FAA inspection.
This week, after 14 years of design, R&D and fundraising, Samson Sky, makers of the Switchblade flying car, announced that after an inspection by an FAA agent, the vehicle had successfully completed high-speed taxi tests and is ready to fly. .
In particular, the company repeated high-speed accelerations down the runway up to the take-off speed. It also:
“Also tested the brakes, with the vehicle being repeatedly brought to a stop at the end of each journey at a speed of up to 140 mph.”
Switchblade is the first flying car available to the American public — about 2,000 people have already pre-ordered the $170,000 vehicle.
Is it a plane? Is it a car?
It’s both. Technically, the Samson Sky Switchblade is classified in the US as a three-wheeled motorcycle – but it also flies.
With room for a pilot plus one passenger, he can both drive on the road and use runways for takeoff and landing, using wings that fold out from storage under his body.
The shape-shifting dream isn’t as sexy as it sounds
You will see one of the sticking points if you read that last paragraph carefully.
Legally speaking, you are just as dependent on (certified) airports with runways as any regular aircraft.
This means that the flexibility of your take-off and landing location is identical to that of existing aircraft. In other words, the company’s claim that “you can fly wherever you want” relies on the existence of airports you can fly to.
So, where can a flying car take off?
I spoke with Corvin Huber, CEO and CTO of airways, to gain some insider knowledge about logistics. Skyroads is developing an automated airspace management and vehicle guidance system that will allow autonomous passenger and cargo vehicles to take off, fly and land.
Currently, there are no facilities developed in the US for use by private flying cars. There are, of course, private airstrips, but these would have to be approved by the regulatory authorities to host flying cars.
Huber notes that even access to traditional airports isn’t cheap.
Furthermore, we still don’t know exactly how flying car owners will book their launch slot. Doesn’t sound so spontaneous now.
And there’s also the challenge of getting your Switchblade.
Wait, you need to build your own air car?
The Switchblade will be registered as an experimental homemade aircraft in the sky. On the ground, it will be registered as a modified motorcycle or kitcar, depending on where you live.
And you have to build it yourself.
According to the company, the build time for the Switchblade Kit is approximately 2,000 hours for home builders.
Or you can use the Samson Builder Assist Center, where the company claims it can take up to a week full-time “with our professional construction team helping you on the line at every construction station. All that’s left is the paint job or the vinyl wrap.”
I don’t doubt the skills of the Samson construction team, but I’m not convinced when it comes to the customer. And it takes a lot of time and money when you consider that with the cost of a Switchblade you can buy a second-hand plane and a sports car – or even a solar car.
Then there is the challenge of getting approved to fly your air car.
You need licenses
Owners of the Switchblade flying car require aviation and car driver’s licenses. Huber explained that they also need a flight examiner’s medical and get a repair license to service their aircraft.
This week, however, Samson shared that although the original owners were pre-flight pilots, “with quite a few commercial pilots, retired military pilots and aerospace engineers,” today nearly 20% of deposits are non-pilots.
Getting a pilot’s license isn’t easy, and what happens if you crash on the road or in the air?
How on earth do you insure a flying car?
Car insurance is already cumbersome if you have a significant claim to file. But with a flying car it gets even more complicated. To date, there is no insurance for personal flying cars.
Samson suggests that “Initially, Switchblade drivers need two policies: one for the air and a separate one for the ground.”
How would you even get insurance permission to park your flying car in your own garage? What if it gets stolen (oh lordy, the hilarity)?
Then imagine the pain of dealing with two insurers and trying to get your claim approved. Huber states:
“Any time you put ‘a dent’ in your car, you have to come to a reasoned conclusion about how badly you damaged your air vehicle and you have to assess its continued airworthiness on a very conservative scale.”
Oof. So many unknowns.
You are part of a large aviation experiment
The current version of the Samson Sky Switchblade on offer is still experimental.
Huber explains: “This means that you are not flying in an aircraft that is certified according to the official certification rules. You are responsible for the ‘flyability’ of the design and its continued airworthiness.”
This makes it even more difficult to crack the European market, where the operator needs specific permits to fly in each national jurisdiction, as experimental aircraft are nationally regulated (NOT by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency).
Even Klein Vision’s AirCar flying car, which promises to take to the skies within two years, only has a certificate of airworthiness from the Slovak transport authority. This means that once it is commercially available, you can only fly it into Slovakia.
Samson plans to produce a certified Switchblade in the future and claims the current design is close to compliant. However, this will drastically increase the price.
It’s not green
My biggest problem with Switchblade’s flying car is that it uses gasoline as its primary energy source. Considering that the urban air mobility movement aims to get people out of their cars and into more sustainable modes of transport, this is a major failure. Air mobility is intended to promote sustainable transportation, not create clutter.
But Samson works extremely hard to provide the necessary infrastructure to make the dream a reality. Let’s face it, this is a enormous attractive hobby project for aviation enthusiasts with proper permits and construction skills who live close to a certified airport. For the rest of us, don’t hold your breath.
- 1 Hi there, EV nerd!
- 2 Is it a plane? Is it a car?
- 3 The shape-shifting dream isn’t as sexy as it sounds
- 4 So, where can a flying car take off?
- 5 Wait, you need to build your own air car?
- 6 You need licenses
- 7 How on earth do you insure a flying car?
- 8 You are part of a large aviation experiment
- 9 It’s not green