A Historic Year for Flying Cars: 6 eVTOL Companies Dominating 2021

An eVTOL developed by Joby Aviation is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the company’s initial public offering on August 11, 2021. Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

Here we are at the tail end of 2021 and, sadly, flying cars are still not a reality for everyday commuters. Nevertheless, it has been a remarkable year for the eVTOL (electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles) industry, which saw a record number of SPAC deals, test flights and even some companies entering the licensing process.

It’s estimated that there are at least 200 companies globally working on eVTOLs for various use cases, from shared urban air taxis to personal recreational aircraft. But like any nascent industries, when it eventually matures there won’t be many players left. “There might be only four or five players that will eventually survive this journey,” Gary Gysin, CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based Wisk Aero, told Observer in an interview in summer.

Several frontrunners are targeting mass production and regulatory approval around 2023 or sooner. Some ultralight eVTOLs, which don’t require a pilot license to fly in the U.S., are already available for pre-order.

Below, we have rounded up the six most promising flying car companies that have dominated news headlines this year. The companies are listed in no particular order.

Kitty Hawk—Heaviside

Type: Personal aircraft
Development stage: Pre-human flight
Capacity: single seat
Price: N/A
Performance: Top speed 180 mph; range 100 miles

Established a decade ago by Google cofounder Larry Page, Kitty Hawk is the company that started it all. After project cancellations and corporate restructuring in recent years, Kitty Hawk’s newest eVTOL is a fully autonomous, single-seat aircraft called Heaviside, named after the 18th century English engineer Oliver Heaviside.

Kitty Hawk began working on Heaviside in 2019. The company’s CEO Sebastian Thrun said he would follow in the footsteps of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson and be his company’s first passenger as soon as the prototype is ready to fly. Heaviside’s maiden flight will aim as high as 1,000 feet and hover in the air for about five minutes, the company said.

Wisk Aero—Cora

Type: Air taxi
Development stage: Prototype
Capacity: Two passengers
Price: $4 and $8 per passenger mile
Performance: Top speed 110 mph; range 62 miles

As mentioned above, Kitty Hawk has discontinued several eVTOL projects over the years. One of them is Cora, an autonomous two-seater aircraft currently being developed by a new company called Wisk Aero, a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing.

Like Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside, Cora is designed to fly without a pilot. The current prototype, the fifth generation, can carry two passengers. Wisk’s ultimate goal is to build a larger eVTOL that can be used as an urban air taxi—at a price comparable to Uber X.

Archer Aviation—Maker

Type: Air taxi
Development stage: Test flight
Capacity: Four passengers
Price: Comparable to UberX
Performance: Top speed 150 mph; range 60 miles

Archer Aviation is barely three years old. But it has an ambitious timeline to start volume production as soon as 2023 and has already sold $1 billion worth of pre-orders to United Airlines.

Archer’s eVTOL, “Maker,” has a very similar appearance to Wisk’s Aero. (In fact, They are so similar that Wisk has sued Archer for stealing trade secrets. Archer has hit back with a suit alleging smear campaign.)

Archer is developing Maker at a facility near the Palo Alto Airport. The company completed its first hover test flight on December 16 at an undisclosed location in California.

Joby Aviation—S4

Type: Air taxi
Development stage: Test flight
Capacity: 4 passengers
Price: N/A
Performance: Top speed 200 mph; range 150 miles

If there’s a company best equipped to build a Uber network for the air, it has to be Joby Aviation, the company that absorbed Uber’s flying car division (Uber Elevate) in 2020.

At least from a marketing perspective. Joby had already been working on eVTOLs before acquiring Uber Elevate, but said Uber’s software and personnel would help it accelerate commercializing air taxi services.

Joby’s latest prototype, S4, is a piloted aircraft that can fly up to four passengers for 150 miles on a single charge. Mass production is expected to start soon at a facility in Marina, Calif. The FAA and the city of Marina approved of Joby’s manufacturing plan in June.

SkyDive (Japan)— SD-03

Type: Urban taxi
Development stage: Licensing
Price: N/A
Capacity: Single seat
Performance: Top speed 30 mph; maximum flight time 10 minutes

Japan’s SkyDive may be a small player in the eVTOL world by funding size. But it’s the only company that has successfully taken a piloted vehicle off the ground. In August 2020, the company’s prototype SD-03 completed a five-minute test flight with a pilot on board in the Japanese city of Toyota.

In November, SD-03 received a type certificate from Japan’s transportation regulator. The certification is an official endorsement of the aircraft’s design and paves the way for manufacturing and commercialization down the road.

The current version of SD-03 can fly up to 10 minutes at a top speed of 30 mph (48 km/h). Its next iteration aims to extend maximum flight time to 30 minutes and raise top speed to 40 mph. The company expects aims to launch a flying taxi service with SD-03 in Japan’s Osaka Bay area as early as 2025. It also has plans to roll out a two-seater commercial model in 2023.

Jetson Aero (Sweden)—Jetson one

Type: Personal aircraft
Development stage: Pre-market (available in 2022)
Capacity: Single seat
Price: $92,000
Performance: Top speed 63 mph; maximum flight time 20 minutes

Finally a flying car you can order now! Swedish startup Jetson Aero’s personal electric plane, Jetson One, will be available in the U.S. in 2022. For an affordable $92,000, you will get a lightweight single-seat aircraft that can fly you to nearly 5,000 feet in the sky without a pilot license, because, at only 88 pounds, it’s considered as a “vehicle,” not a plane, under the FAA’s rules.

Prepare for a long wait list, though. All Jetson One vehicles are sold out for 2022, according to Jetson Aero’s website. There are only three units left for 2023.

A Historic Year for Flying Cars: 6 eVTOL Companies Dominating 2021

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