An Israeli startup developing a “flying” vehicle, an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for individuals, said its prototype aircraft passed an initial hover test with regulators recently, putting the company on track for an upcoming flight certification.
Pardes Hanna-based startup AIR has been accepting pre-orders for its AIR ONE, an all-electric two-seat eVTOL, since October last year, after unveiling the first models aimed at the consumer market.
According to the company, the aircraft has a range of 177 km on a single charge at speeds of up to 250 km per hour, for a flight duration of one hour. It has folding wings for easy parking and the ability to take off or land on any flat surface, the company says.
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AIR ONE already has a certificate of airworthiness, a certificate that authorizes a plane to fly, and began a flight test in June, with the full-size prototype hovering over the green fields of Kibbutz Megiddo in northern Israel under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Rani Plaut, co-founder and CEO of AIR, said Times of Israel that this was the first actual flight of the aircraft since obtaining the certificate of airworthiness.
“This test is the first time that the device at full weight in life size [d’AIR] was tested in flight,” marking “the beginning of a long road that will continue with a [test] of manned flight and which will later develop into testing of mass production units,” he said.
The aircraft hovered heavily for more than two weeks, took off, hovered in place and returned to the ground, “with peak performance within a stable flight envelope,” the company said. (A flight envelope is an aircraft’s operating parameters and capabilities based on its design. It refers to factors such as speed, altitude and load factor).
Mr. Plaut clarified that this first flight was intended to “hover for a few minutes during which many parameters were measured, such as energy consumption, the behavior of the flight controls and reactivity to the wind.”.
He said the plane performed “flawlessly” in its first gliding test and that the company is now preparing for the next big step: a full flight test scheduled for October.
“It was really impressive to see AIR ONE take off from the ground for the first time. We’ve been working on this project for nearly five years and can’t wait for the public to join us, Plaut said in the company’s official statement last week. “This important step confirms AIR’s position as the market leader in air mobility for individuals, allowing people to experience the sensation of flying on a daily basis.”
In addition to Israeli regulators, AIR has also worked with the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to achieve G1 certification, which sets initial safety and environmental standards for civilian commercial operations.
Plaut said AIR is “on track with the certification process in the United States,” a process that typically takes four to five years.
During an interview with Times of Israel in 2021, Plaut had explained that while awaiting all legal permits, the plan was to complete the certification process by the end of 2023 and to begin deliveries of the devices in 2024.
In the meantime, the company will “continue to sign contracts with supply chain suppliers for mass production of AIR ONE in the United States in 2024, just in time for deliveries,” he said.
In March, AIR signed an agreement with Australian company FlyOnE, a distributor of electric aircraft, to deliver 25 of the first AIR ONE aircraft to local customers by 2025. FlyOnE will also become AIR’s local service and maintenance partner.
Pre-orders for the AIR ONE were in the triple digits, and that number is likely to increase as the certification process progresses, Plaut said.
AIR was conceived in 2017 by Chen Rosen, an aviation expert, who was later joined by Plaut and Netanel Goldberg, both serial entrepreneurs. Plaut is also the CEO of Israeli car startup Moodify and a board member of Tactile Mobility, a Haifa-based startup that gives smart cars the ability to “feel the road.” »
With AIR, the founders wanted to “make a real difference by making the freedom to fly really accessible to people,” Plaut said.
The company “combines sustainable aerospace innovation with automotive know-how” and taps into the burgeoning eVTOL market, which is expected to reach $12 billion by 2030.
The founders of AIR believe that while the global industry is focused on “commercially piloted or autonomous air taxis for cities,” AIR ONE “offers an alternative for those who want the ultimate freedom to fly the way they want.” »
“Today, for most of us, flying is about stepping into a huge metal tube and being transported that way. You don’t really feel like you’re flying. We want to bring aviation within the reach of as many people as possible, combining the autonomy, simplicity and ease of use of electric aircraft systems [systèmes de vol informatisés] with the cars’ DNA: ease of use, low maintenance costs, etc. And since it is an electric unit, there is an ecological element”, explained Mr. Plaut during our previous interview.
“Airplanes are easy to handle if you have good technology,” he said. To this end, AIR developed what it called the software ” fly as intended“, which will allow ordinary people to operate and navigate the vehicle, and no longer just trained pilots. The aircraft is also equipped with an AI-enabled monitoring system for frequent inspections to “ensure the highest level of safety, even for pilots with minimal training,” the company says.
“We would like to sell directly to consumers. Most of our competitors offer services such as air taxis and shuttles,” said Plaut.
“Right now there are about 1.5 billion cars in the world, with about 80 million cars produced every year. If we manage to fly 10,000 cars, we can start to make a difference. Nobody does,” he said.
While he doesn’t foresee AIR becoming a major car and aircraft manufacturer, Plaut said the original goal was to sell about
10,000 AIR ONE per year.