drone certificationEver wonder if you, a non-pilot, could fly a ‘flying car’? This reporter tried it

October 12, 2021by helo-10

We keep hearing, and reporting, that the era of the personal flying machine … flying car … air taxi … call it what you will … is right around the corner, with backing from big players like automakers or aircraft companies. In some imaginings, you’d be a passenger while these electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft are flown by a cabbie/pilot. In others, you’d be dead weight (wait, let’s not say dead) being ferried aboard an autonomous drone. But weight and technology being limiting factors here, the job of flying just might come down to you. So maybe you’ve wondered: Could you do it?

We first told you about a Silicon Valley eVTOL enterprise known as Opener back in 2018. And true to the always-just-a-year-away nature of the flying car game, at that time it expected to begin sales of its BlackFly aircraft in 2019, for the price of an SUV. Well, it’s 2021, and though there’s not yet a BlackFly parked in your garage, the one-seater is FAA-certified, and it has been test-flown more than 4,300 times for over 35,000 miles — racking up a stockpile of YouTube videos in the process.

The company now says 25 BlackFly aircraft will be sold this fall.

The craft is meant to be amphibious, landing on water or grass, and its name is derived from the flight characteristics of, well, a black fly, along with the color of its carbon-fiber fuselage. The key to its technology is its Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech), a system of eight redundant propellers developed on the NASA Ames X-Plane program. The system allows each of the propellers to turn at different speeds, meaning the plane can hover, turn on a dime or do just about anything a fixed-wing aircraft normally can’t.

And here’s a fun fact: You don’t need a pilot’s license to fly a BlackFly. (You do need to complete Opener’s operator training, however.)

Another fun fact, getting back to the could-you-do-it question: The company won’t let you make a test flight. But here’s the next best thing: watching somebody else with no experience give it a try. CBS Sunday Morning correspondent John Blackstone recently went through BlackFly simulator training, and then company founder Marcus Leng put him in the pilot seat. Check it out in the video above.

Though the landing looks dicey, there was no harm done — Blackstone got BlackFly up and back down again. So maybe the rest of us could do the same?

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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