AIR’s Full-Scale Prototype Completes Transition To Cruise
Israeli startup AIR has completed the first successful transition of its full-scale technology prototype from hover to cruise, marking a key milestone toward its ambition to begin delivering electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) to private customers beginning in 2024.
Since coming out of stealth in 2021, AIR has been working to develop and certify its two-seat, piloted eVTOL, dubbed ONE. The fixed-wing aircraft is powered by eight electric motors and propelled by eight rotors on two sets of pods, the company says. It has a maximum range of 110 mi. (177 km) and a flight time of up to 1 hr.
The first flight of AIR’s full-scale ONE prototype took place around 3 p.m. local time Dec. 18 from Beer Sheva, Israel. It was loaded to the vehicle’s full capacity of 2,425 lb. (1,100 kg) before it took off vertically and transitioned to its nominal cruising speed of 155 mph (249 km/hr.), the company says.
The total test flight lasted under 15 minutes, according to a AIR CEO Rani Plaut, who said that AIR plans to "increase flight time and expand all parameters to the full envelope during the next few months."
"During test flights we do not aim for range but speed, altitude and most importantly, the flight control behavior," Plaut told Aviation Week. "The test area is limited to about one square mile but we are expanding quickly towards the full envelope, enabling 60-mile routes and further towards longer ranges."
The successful transition flight paves the way for AIR to shift its research and development activities from Israel to the U.S., where it has purchased a facility in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to Plaut.
AIR is pursuing type certification for its eVTOL from the FAA under Part 21.17b rules for very light airplanes. But the company aspires to launch under the FAA’s proposed MOSAIC (Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification) standard for Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), which is being expanded under MOSAIC to encompass “Light Personal Aircraft” like the AIR ONE, Plaut explained.
AIR is unique in that its eVTOL is being marketed to private individuals for leisure and personal use, with an estimated list price of less than $200,000, Plaut says. Users will not require any pilot license or equivalent credential to operate the vehicles, which can take off and land on any flat surface and be stored in a garage with wings folded upright when not in use. The aircraft’s batteries–with a capacity of 74 kWh–can be charged using the same charger as most electric vehicles.
Plaut said the company has so far secured preorders for 270 units, of which 230 are headed to customers in the U.S. The customer base is wide, ranging from owners of large farms to professionals seeking to hop between islands to well-off individuals who simply want it for pure leisure.
“When you talk about aerospace, normally there is a mission. For a car, there is no mission–it’s just a box that takes you from Point A to Point B safely and comfortably. That’s what we’re aiming for,” Plaut says. “Our patented technology enables a vehicle that is extremely easy to operate but can still get through the certification process without inflating the price.”
AIR aims to produce up to 5,000 units per year in its first five to six years of operation and at least 10,000 per year afterward. Key to achieving those high production rates is basing the design on existing automotive technologies, processes and materials, Plaut says, noting that the aircraft is being designed by a dual team of automotive and aerospace engineers.
The company’s next steps include finalizing the supply chain and building its mass-production prototype, which Plaut estimates will happen in the third quarter of 2023. The company aims to launch its flight campaign in the fourth quarter of 2023 and hopes to wrap up the regulatory approval process by late 2024.