Electric VTOLs are shaping up as something you’ll use as a service, rather than something you’d buy and keep in your garage for personal use. But Next UAS wants to re-open the conversation on personal ownership, with this single-seat iFly concept.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the aircraft design here; it’s basically a single-seat coaxial octacopter running two props coaxially on the ends of four carbon arms. Indeed, probably the most interesting thing to note here is the way these diagonal arms are mounted, with four props down low and two up high, giving the iFly a kind of wonky appearance when viewed from any direction but directly above.
There’s no particular reason why a design like this wouldn’t fly; it’s a pretty basic design with a bit of redundancy built in. It’s not likely to go particularly far or fast given current battery technology, but that’s neither here nor there. More interesting is the idea that people will soon be owning their own eVTOLs, and that’s worth talking about.
The vast majority of serious eVTOL contenders are pitching their aircraft as vertical transport services for short to medium distance high-speed hops, either across town or between towns. Why? Well, they need to make a strong business case for fleet buyers. Getting a new aircraft certified for commercial use is a huge and onerous task costing up to a billion dollars, and whoever buys these things will need to recoup their costs by keeping them as active as possible taking as many passengers as possible.
Could an individual buy a Joby or Lilium eVTOL for private use? Well, maybe, but they’d be a long way down the priority list behind air taxi services buying thousands at a time. Also, these things are pretty huge; you’d need some dedicated infrastructure to hangar it and launch one from home, and unless you’ve got equivalent space and facilities available at your destination, I don’t know where you’d be able to “park” it. They’ll also require trained and licensed pilots, as well as maintenance officers and the like to ensure they’re safe to fly.
The iFly, on the other hand, looks like it’s not much more than 2 m (6.6 ft) high, and its top two props may well be designed to swivel in line with the bottom ones for storage. If that’s the case, and the company decides to stick some wheels on the bottom, then it could indeed fit inside most garage spaces, where you could charge it up and keep it out of the rain. Likewise, it could fold up and be moved off to the side of a rooftop vertiport, or sequestered in a car space at your destination.
Next UAS has no plans to certify the iFly commercially – that’ll knock a ton of cost off the unit price, I suppose. Instead, it’s planning to try to get this thing registered as a powered ultralight by the FAA. That would mean no registration, and no pilot’s license required to fly it. On the other hand, it would also mean it’d have to weigh less than 115 kg (254 lb), and max out at 55 knots (102 km/h or 64 mph). It couldn’t be flown over populated areas, and its range would likely be extremely limited, as the FAA’s current rules treat batteries as part of the airframe rather than allowing extra weight as they do for liquid fuel.
So you might be looking at an aircraft here that’s really only usable for single-person flights of a few miles’ duration, and not over populated areas. Handy if you live on the other side of a big canyon from the office, maybe, but unlikely to be very practical otherwise. Other certification categories might improve the picture somewhat, but would likely also require licensing. There are plenty of private plane owners out there, but we’d question how many of them would spring for an aircraft this limited.
Still, we may yet eat our words. If enough people can get past this company’s use of phrases like “the ability to fly: it’s not just for superheroes anymore,” and the magnificent “coming soon to a sky near you,” perhaps Next UAS will shift some units at reasonable prices and get individual owners airborne in style.
At this stage the company is looking for investment to make the project happen, and has flown a 1/3 scale prototype of the iFly design. There’s a non-embeddable video on the Next UAS Youtube channel.
Source: Next UAS