If you listen to perpetually-excited media, air taxis will soon be shuttling people hither and yon in all the big cities of the globe. Executives and shoppers will be whisked around downtown skyscrapers silently, quietly, swiftly, and the cost will be modest. Do you buy all that? I’m not holding my breath.
Oh, these air taxi vehicles are coming. I don’t doubt that, if for no other reason than they are absorbing vast amounts of money as people bet on some grand future where infotech merges with aviation to make flying vastly better and easier. It’s a fantastic dream and when smart people powered by enough money work on something long enough… something often happens.
Fine. That’s the sales pitch and apparently it’s working because more than 350 companies around the globe have raised billions of dollars to pursue their dreams yet the first entries remain far from market.
Several people at the very pinnacle of FAA have departed the agency and are now working for air taxi developers (naturally, they are often called by some term other than the mundane “air taxi” label). Even the late Acting Administrator Billy Nolan split for a big job at one of these companies.
Let’s come back to reality in the world of light, recreational aviation. This is our space and I enjoy following it.
What we’ve got now is a total of five current entries in the Part 103 multicopter race. Think about that.
You never heard of these aerial contraptions until a very few years ago. Yet we have five entries purely as Part 103 vehicles. Honestly, I’ve watched closely and we’ve haven’t seen that many new Part 103 candidates in years.
What you have seen up close, I’m betting, is smaller “drones,” usually quad copters than can be flown with a radio-control aircraft handset. You may have flown or owned one.
I had a DJI Vision quadcopter for a while. I enjoyed flying it and used it to learn more about these things. Yet what I always wanted was a person-sized version that I could take for a local flight.
I’ve mentioned this fanciful dream to a number of aviators. If I ask fellow pilots if they would like to take one for a spin, the answer is commonly not only, “Yes,” but “Absolutely!” Of course, all of us who are similarly enthusiastic harbor concerns that the software must be exceptionally robust. It may be to that point now; I simply don’t know. When flight control software is highly reliable, these multicopters might become the safest aircraft you could fly.
When fully proven, lots of people may want to go aloft. In fact, I’ll bet hugely more people will do this than will go pay for conventional flying lessons.
Here are the five currently vying to capture your business:
- Lift Aircraft Hexa — my January 2022 article
- Opener BlackFly — my July 2018 article
- Jetson One — my February 2022 article
- Ryse Recon — mentioned in this January 2023 article
- Rotor X Dragon— covered in this article
This does not include models that have been discontinued — and yes, these were also Part 103 single seaters:
- Kitty Hawk Flyer — mentioned in this December 2019 article
- Hoversurf Scorpion — my October 2018 article
- others I may have missed, especially from overseas
Rotor X Dragon
Here’s another producer you don’t know… well, maybe you do know them. You might not know Rotor X Aircraft but you’ve probably heard of RotorWay.
In 2021, Rotor X Aircraft purchased kit helicopter company, RotorWay International, founded in 1961 by B.J. Schramm. Under the former and current brand, the company boasts a heritage of manufacturing the most produced two-seat kit helicopter in the world — “over 2,500 as of December 2022,” they claim. Based in Arizona, Rotor X Aircraft offers the two-seat Phoenix A600 kit turbo helicopter (nearby image).
Rotor X announced in 2021 that they would be “entering the electric air taxi market with an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) quad-rotor helicopter.” A partner Rotor X teamed up with to fulfill this dream, Advanced Tactics, “secretly started developing an eVTOL ultralight kit passenger aircraft named Dragon,” reported Electric VTOL News.
Because Dragon is is a kit multicopter, “the company will also have builder assist and pilot training facilities in several locations in the USA including California, Arizona, Texas and Georgia.” A Dragon kit is predicted to ask only a week or two for assembly.
Likewise Rotor X said Dragon “requires only a few hours of training that includes following FAA Part 103 flight regulations for ultralight aircraft. No pilot license is required.” The company also announced plans to make a two-seat version of the Dragon aircraft for pilot training.
Rotor X said, “Dragon can carry one pilot who is over 6 foot-6 and weighs up to 250 pounds.” Dragon can fly “for up to 20 minutes depending on the weight of the pilot and the air density where the aircraft is flying.”
Development of Dragon eVTOL ultralight kit was funded entirely by Advanced Tactics, Rotor X reported. Dragon is licensed by Rotor X to produce, market, and sell. “The first production Dragon kit is expected to roll off the assembly line in Chandler, Arizona by the fall of 2023.” Pre-order price was stated at $85,000 “for the first 100 Dragon kits sold.” Then the kit price will rise to $99,000.
Ready to go along? Although the images here and on their website suggest Rotor X and partner Advanced Tactics have a ways to go, the company answers the question, “When will production begin?” with, “It has already begun. First shipment will be August 2023.”
Hmmm, August this year looks interesting with Dragon’s first shipment and FAA’s Mosaic NPRM hitting the streets. Want to bet which comes first?
Rotor X Aircraft Dragon Part 103 kit
all specification provided by the manufacturer
- Aircraft type — eVTOL passenger multicopter
- Occupants — 1 pilot
- Maximum Speed — 63 mph (55 knots)
- Flight Duration — 20 minutes
- Empty Weight — <254 pounds
- Maximum Payload — 250 pounds
- Electric Motors & Propellers — 8
- Battery Recharge Time — 2 hours, batteries can be quickly swapped
- Fuselage Construction — Carbon fiber composite with canopy over cockpit
- Landing gear — Fixed skid landing gear
- Safety features — Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) so if one or more propellers (ducted fans) or motors fail, the other working propellers (or ducted fans) and motors can safely land the aircraft. There are also redundancies in the sub-systems of the aircraft. The aircraft has an emergency ballistic parachute.
- Rotor X Dragon, company website
- Info for other Part 103 multicopters — see links above