Google co-founder Larry Page’s secretive Kitty Hawk project demonstrated a prototype of the company’s vision for a flying car on April 24.
The initial version of the all-electric Kitty Hawk Flyer is specifically designed to fly over water. It does not require the operator to have a pilot’s license, at least in the United States, and the company’s website describes it as an aircraft that anyone can learn to fly in minutes.
A commercial version of the Flyer will become available later this year, according to Kitty Hawk. The startup, however, has not disclosed pricing for the new technology, which it says will be announced at product launch. People interested in the project can sign up for a three-year Kitty Hawk membership that costs $100.
Members will receive priority placement on the waiting list for the product and be eligible for a discount of $2,000 off the retail price when it starts shipping. The $100 fee will also give members special access to Kitty Hawk’s flight simulator, demonstrations and events where people will get a chance to test-fly the vehicle.
Anyone can sign up for membership, including those based outside the United States. But product demonstrations and other events will take place only in the United States.
A YouTube video demonstrating the lightweight aircraft in operation shows the Kitty Hawk as bearing no resemblance at all to any car. Rather, it consists of what looks like a spider-web-like platform with one seat, resting on two pontoons. Eight battery-powered propellers mounted beneath the platform power the Kitty Hawk.
In a blog on Medium, freelance writer Cimeron Morrissey, who test piloted the aircraft recently over a lake in California despite having no previous piloting experience, described the Kitty Hawk as looking and feeling “a lot like a flying motorcycle.”
The controls for the Kitty Hawk work very much like the joysticks and buttons for video games and are built into what Morrissey described as a set of handlebars. The aircraft is designed to lift off and land vertically, said Morrissey.
“Speeding above the lake at up to 25 miles per hour, I thumb the controls left and right, rocking the Flyer side-to-side, drawing a ‘U’ in the air,” Morrissey described of her test flying experience. “It’s like snowboarding in a gully, coming up high and weightless on the apex of a ridge.”
The New York Times, which was one of the first to report on the Kitty Hawk Flyer’s test flight, described the aircraft as built for one person and weighing in at around 220 pounds.
Kitty Hawk’s CEO Sebastian Thrun predicts big things for the new aircraft. In a Twitter post, he claimed the Kitty Hawk Flyer will “change the future of personal transportation.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has designated the Kitty Hawk Flyer as an ultralight aircraft and has given it the green light to operate in uncongested areas for recreational purposes.
The commercial version of the Flyer will look different and have a different design from the prototype that Kitty Hawk demonstrated this week. While it will be available for shipping only in the United States, people from almost anywhere in the world will be able to buy the product. However, they will need to make their own shipping arrangements, Kitty Hawk said.
Page’s company is not the only one racing to build flying cars. In fact, several other ventures are already well ahead of Kitty Hawk in the race to build and deliver cars that will be capable of relatively low-altitude flight. And unlike the Flyer, some of those projects involve vehicles that are designed to actually drive like cars on the road but can fly as well.
One example is Terrafugia, a privately owned Woburn, Mass.-based firm that five MIT graduates established in 2006. The company demoed a prototype of its Transition flying car back in 2009 and since then has tested a redesigned version that has already logged more than 100 flight hours and some 200 takeoffs and landings. The vehicle has been approved for use as a light sport aircraft, and the first commercial products are expected out in 2019.
Another example is Slovakia’s AeroMobile, which recently announced it is ready to start taking orders for commercial versions of a flying car designed to travel distances of up to around 600 miles. The company’s first cars—which look like more traditional images of flying cars—will start shipping in 2020.