These new-millennia flying machines have inspired multiple names. While an eventual winner is determined, a common handle seems to be the rather awkward “eVTOL” — for electric vertical takeoff and landing. A range of abbreviations are also used: UAV, UAM, UAS, autonomous aircraft, and several others. I like multicopter — because all of them involved multiple propellers doing the lifting.
Most commonly, you hear “drone.”
Yet “drone” is further confusing because we haven’t separated crewed aircraft from uncrewed aircraft and this is a major distinction. FAA has also made this separation, so for this article, I will only speak of crewed aircraft, that is, a flying machine with a pilot using controls to direct its flight. In addition, I will also stick solely to single place aircraft that can theoretically qualify as a legitimate Part 103 ultralight vehicle.
Let me first extend a quick thanks to IEEE’s Spectrum magazine for making me aware of entries I’d missed. You can read their article on Opener’s BlackFly; it’s quite interesting.
Only Part 103 Candidates
I’ve discovered five current-day entries seeking to go to market using FAR Part 103 (PDF). They aren’t alone. I’ve written about others with a similar goal: Jetson One, Kitty Hawk Flyer, and Scorpion. Except for Jetson that remains a player, the others evidently saw greener turf runways elsewhere.
The Spectrum article refers to 350 aircraft developments in the eVTOL field, spanning 48 countries. How many will make it to market and succeed? When will public acceptance allow executives to zip over urban congestion in their buzzing contraptions? Will FAA ever finish regulating them? All these questions are unknown.
However, if asked to bet on any near-term success, I’d guess it will be a Part 103-qualifying “recreational multicopters” because anything larger remains years away, perhaps decades. Therefore, in this article, I will only touch on some genuine 103 entries. Not all will succeed but one or two might show us the way forward.
All models featured here are single-seat aircraft that may possibly qualify for Part 103 regulations. Two of these companies, Lift Aircraft and Opener, have engaged LAMA to form a Technical Standards Committee (TSC) to evaluate their compliance with aviation’s simplest rule. (So far, so good.) Jetson is a Swedish company with unknown plans to use TSC approval. Ohio-based Ryse claims to be pursuing 103 status for aircraft aimed at farmers and ranchers. Alauda from Australia appears focused on a crewed electric racing machine (who knew, right?). As I’ve already written about Jetson, Lift’s Hexa (Texas), and BlackFly (California), I’ll refer to those articles and give only fresh information here.
All companies are linked throughout the article. If these catch your fancy, please contact the companies directly. I will only be writing about these aircraft more extensively once they are actually for sale on the open market.
Forget Walter Mitty;
Rev Up Your George Jetson
Ryse Aero — In the words of its developer, the vehicle named Recon has a water landing system (a similar argument used by Lift’s Hexa) with “six independent outrigger floats and two fuselage floats for landing with a 250-pound occupant.” The floats are a key component as the use of multiple floats gives Recon a weight allowance it requires. Is this working around the rules? Nope, even FAA is ready to sign off on such projects.
Recon is compact (like all of these), only 15.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and just under five feet tall. It weighs a reported 286 pounds, though more detail was not available.
“Powered by six electric motors, the carbon-blade propellers spin at 2,000 rpm and when flying it’s not very loud,” claimed the company. Mick Kowitz, CEO and founder of Ryse Aero, is also quick to point out how easy it is to fly, noting that with as little as 45 minutes of training a user can be in the air. As with all 103 multicopter entries, redundant computer controls help a novice pilot fly without incident …or at least that’s the claim. Consider this…
“It’s easier to operate a flying ATV than you think — or, at least it was for me. That’s not a humblebrag either. It was designed so any idiot like me — who backs up into his recycling bin every time he pulls out of the driveway — can jump in and use it,” wrote Tony Ho Tran for the Daily Beast. Is it a good thing that a complete newbie can get in and fly one of these?
Beyond first-time pilots, Ryse Aero aims to help the agricultural community with a lot of acreage to monitor. The U.S. start-up is working on a single-seat eVTOL vehicle that could be operated by farmers, winemakers, or park rangers with minimal training under the FAA’s Part 103 rules. No pricing has been announced at this time.
More Info: Ryse Aero
Alauda Aeronautics — Ryse seems to have conventional ambitions — at least for a multicopter developer — but Alauda does not.
Based in Australia, Alauda Aeronautics said, “[We are] building performance electric flying cars” and “racing to deliver a revolution in personal air mobility so everyone will own a flying car.” On their website, information is very sparse but they quickly introduce the reader to Airspeeder, the “world’s first series for electric flying cars.” While their website suggests Alauda also has more orthodox goals, they appear focused on air racing vehicles. Alauda supports Airspeeder developer Mike Pearson as he forms a new league.
He wrote, “From the dawn of the age of the motor car, it has been racing that pushes innovation. We have Formula 1 to thank for the key performance and safety innovations we take for granted today.” He added, “Our mission is to build the ultimate performance flying car [that] will define a new mobility revolution.”
Alauda’s all-electric aircraft, which is expected to have a range of 25 miles and a Part 103-compliant top speed of 63 mph, could be used for tasks such as inspecting crops and rounding up livestock, goals similar to those expressed by Ryse Aero.
So few facts are available that it is impossible to evaluate if Alauda can meet Part 103’s Advisory Circular AC-103-7 (this is the document successfully used by Lift and Opener to obtain FAA’s blessing on their Part 103 ambitions).
More Info: Alauda Aeronautics
Jetson — Hailing from Sweden, Jetson has been generating tons of good press longer than most others and has attracted tens of millions to watch its promotional videos.
Jetson reported their Jetson One is “built to comply with existing FAA regulations,” though they don’t state which rule. We presume Part 103 as anything higher on the certification scheme is not yet ready for market. However, unlike Lift and Opener, they have not reached out to LAMA for TSC confirmation.
Whatever their long-term strategy, Jetson said this, “The entire 2022 and 2023 production is sold out, but we are accepting orders for 2024 delivery.” Whoa! Sold out through this year? According to their website, this translates to 226 units ordered. Not bad before the first shipment has been made.
What will one of these machines set you back? “A down payment of $22,000 is required [at the time of ordering]. A final payment of $70,000 when your Jetson One is ready for delivery at the factory.” Does $92,000 sound affordable to you?
To see what I’ve had to say about Jetson before, see this article.
More Info: Jetson
Lift Aircraft Hexa — This Texas company has some of the most intriguing ideas I’ve seen in this space. I know this entry a bit more than the others as I served on the TSC that evaluated their Hexa for compliance to Part 103. Yes, thanks to — count ’em — no less than seven floats (six satellite floats on each gear pylon plus one fuselage float), Hexa gets enough extra weight allowance that even with 18 motors and 18 batteries (under each motor), it can qualify as a Part 103 ultralight vehicle. Speeds are controlled by computer.
Distance and location are also computer controlled and that’s perfect for Lift’s initial plan.
You don’t care how much this one costs (it would be over $300,000, they suggest) because Lift doesn’t plan to sell it to you. They will rent it at one of their “vertiports.” Planning several around the country, you can show up, pay the fee, sign the waiver, and take an hour’s instruction before you go fly your own Hexa solo, for your first-ever multicopter flight. The aircraft will be geo-fenced to contain its lateral movement and a safety pilot will stand by to take over if you somehow manage to overwhelm the computer controls.
I’ll tell you what… if Lift offers a flight near me, I’ll do it. Will you?
More Info: Lift Aircraft
Opener BlackFly — The one aircraft of all these that we’ve seen fly at Oshkosh (not one year but two) is BlackFly. To aviators, this is a kind of proof the others have yet to demonstrate. In the January 2023 issue of Sport Aviation, members can read a lengthy article about BlackFly and their performance at EAA’s big summer celebration of flight.
“Traffic congestion and long commutes are two leading causes of stress and reduction in quality of life,” believes Opener. “Countless hours are wasted on roads each day, idling in traffic, time that could be better spent with family and friends.” Who can argue yet range anxiety and a lack of experience flying this unorthodox aircraft may hold back buyers. That’s OK as it is often “early adopters” that start the trend.
“Our vehicles are intended to liberate the public from the restrictions of two-dimensional road travel by opening up a new world of untethered three-dimensional flight,” said Opener. “Compact and simple, our vehicles are pioneering a new era of stress-free travel.”
Do you want to commute to work in your BlackFly? If it arrives on market as promised for the price of “luxury SUV,” that might mean your commuter aircraft will sell for under $100,000. If so, would you consider that affordable?
Here’s what I wrote earlier about BlackFly.
More Info: Opener
So, Should They?
…sell multicopters as “103s”?
Pilots outside the Part 103 space (which means most pilots) often raise an eyebrow at the phrase, “No pilot’s license required.” In several conversations, I’ve sensed considerable discomfort from many such aviators. Look, I get that we’re all proud of the effort we put into acquiring each certificate level of aviation knowledge and we may be disturbed by the idea of flying with others who have no formal training.
First off, nearly everyone who has already entered Part 103 has prior experience. Sure, some could use more yet is that so different from other forms of aviation? That pilot on the tarmac has all the right credentials but hasn’t flown in ten years. The individual next to him has no license but flies his Part 103 more than 100 hours per year. Who do you want in the air with you?
However, most of these multicopter developers plan to sell to the general public and train them how to fly in 45 minutes. Is that realistic? Or prudent? The pilot in you may say “No!” Yet with computer assists as we’ve seen even on household drones for years, these things may turn out to be safer than our beloved fixed or flex wings …or at least they will be when the flight control software is judged “extremely robust.”
So, do you believe it is wrong that companies offer these 103 multicopters saying, “No pilot’s license required”? Would you fly one of these (after checking everything very carefully)?
ARTICLE LINKS (Part 103 Multicopters):
- Ryse Aero Tech, factory website
- Lift Aircraft Hexa, articles on this website
- Opener BlackFly, article on this website
- Alauda Aero, factory website
- Jetson Aero, factory website
- IEEE Spectrum article on Opener BlackFly
Prior 103 Multicopter Entries:
FAR Part 103 Regulation Documents: