Liftoff: Israeli startup’s ‘flying car’ aces first test

AIR says its AIR ONE aircraft, a two-seater eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) vehicle, performed ‘flawlessly’ in a hover test in northern Israel

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

An Israeli startup that is developing a “flying” vehicle, an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for individual consumers, said its prototype aircraft successfully completed a first hover test with regulators recently, setting the company on a path for further flight certification.

Pardes Hanna-based startup AIR began accepting pre-orders for its AIR ONE aircraft, an all-electric two-seater eVTOL, last October after unveiling the first designs for the consumer market.

The aircraft, according to the company, offers a range of 110 miles (177 km) on a single charge at speeds of up to 155 miles (250 km) per hour, with a flight time of one hour. It has collapsible wings for easy parking and the ability to take off from or land on any flat surface, the company says.

The AIR ONE already has an airworthiness certificate, a permit to operate an aircraft in flight, and in June embarked on a hover test that saw the full-scale prototype take flight above the green fields of Kibbutz Megiddo in northern Israel, under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Rani Plaut, AIR’s co-founder and CEO, told The Times of Israel that it was the first actual flight for the aircraft following airworthiness certification.

“This test is the first time that [AIR’s] full-scale, full-weight aircraft was tested in flight,” marking “the beginning of a long journey that will continue to a manned flight [test] and later evolve into mass production unit testing,” he said.

Israeli startup AIR’s AIR ONE prototype aircraft for the consumer market. (AIR/courtesy)

The aircraft completed multiple hovers throughout over two weeks, lifting off, hovering in place, and returning to the ground, “performing optimally in a stable flight envelope,” the company said. (A flight envelope is the operating parameters and capabilities of an aircraft based on its design. It refers to factors like airspeed, altitude, and load factor.)

Plaut said this first flight was “intended to perform hover for a few minutes per flight and many parameters were measured such as energy consumption, flight control behavior and responsiveness to wind.”

He said the aircraft performed “flawlessly” in its first hover test and the company is now preparing for its next milestone: a full-flight test sometime in October.

“It was truly awe-inspiring to watch AIR ONE lift off the ground for the first time. We’ve been on this upward journey for nearly five years and cannot wait for the public to join us on this ride,” Plaut said in the official company announcement last week. “This momentous milestone secures AIR’s spot as a market leader in the personal air mobility space, making the thrill of flight achievable on a daily basis.”

In addition to Israeli regulators, AIR has also been working with the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to obtain G1 certification, which outlines initial safety and environmental standards for civil commercial operations.

Plaut said AIR is “on track with the certification process in the US,” a process that takes four to five years overall.

The AIR ONE eVTOL aircraft by Israeli startup AIR. (Courtesy/AIR)

In a previous interview with The Times of Israel, Plaut explained that, pending all regulatory approval, the plan is to finish the certification process by the end of 2023 and start delivering the aircraft in 2024.

In the meantime, the company would “continue to sign vendors for the supply chain for the mass production of the AIR ONE in the US in 2024, in time for deliveries,” he said.

In March, AIR signed a deal with Australian company FlyOnE, an electric aircraft distributor, to deliver 25 of the first AIR ONE vehicles to local customers in 2025. FlyOnE will also serve as AIR’s local service and maintenance partner.

Pre-orders for the AIR ONE were in the triple digits and the number is likely to grow as the certification process advances, Plaut has said.

Making flight accessible

AIR was first conceived in 2017 by Chen Rosen, an aviation expert, who was later joined by Plaut and Netanel Goldberg, both serial entrepreneurs. Plaut is also the executive chairman of Israeli automotive startup Moodify, and an executive board member at Tactile Mobility, a Haifa-based startup that provides smart cars with the ability to “feel the road.”

With AIR, the founders set out to “make a true difference by making the freedom of flight truly accessible to people,” according to Plaut.

The AIR ONE aircraft by Israeli startup AIR is shown at the Kentucky Derby, May 2022. (AIR)

The company “combines sustainable aerospace innovation with automotive know-how” and is tapping into a nascent eVTOL market estimated to reach $12 billion by 2030.

AIR’s founders believe that while the overall sector is focused on “commercially piloted or autonomous air taxis for cities,” the AIR ONE offers “an alternative for those who want to enjoy the ultimate freedom of flying on their own terms.”

“At the moment, flying for most of us involves getting into a huge metal tube and being transported in that way. You don’t really feel as if you are flying. We want to bring aviation to the masses and combine the range, simplicity and ease-of-use of fly-by-wire [computerized flight systems] with the DNA of cars — usability, low cost of maintenance and so on. And it’s electric so there’s a green element,” Plaut explained in our previous interview.

Israeli startup AIR developed an eVTOL aircraft called AIR ONE for consumer use. (AIR)

“Aircraft can be easy to handle if you have good tech,” he said. To that end, AIR developed what it called “fly by intent” software, which will allow ordinary people to operate and navigate the vehicle, not just trained pilots. The aircraft is also equipped with an AI-enabled monitoring system for frequent inspections to “ensure paramount safety, even for riders with minimal training,” the company says.

“We want to sell directly to consumers. Most of our competitors are doing things like air taxis and shuttles,” Plaut said.

“At the moment, there are approximately 1.5 billion cars in the world, with about 80 million cars produced every year. If we can get 10,000 cars into the air, we can start making a dent. Nobody is doing this,” he said.

He doesn’t foresee AIR becoming a major auto/aircraft maker, but Plaut said the initial vision is to sell approximately 10,000 AIR ONEs per year.

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