Weird gimballed-cabin eVTOL "flying car" receives limited FAA approval
One of the eVTOL world's oddest ducks has announced a milestone of sorts. Alef's Model A is a US$300,000 electric car that's ... kinda street legal, but also capable of a very unique form of flight. The company has announced limited FAA certification.
We took our first look at this bonkers idea back in October last year, but effectively, what you're looking at is a very unique take on the old flying car concept.
In road mode, there's no way this thing would pass automotive-grade crash tests and the like – nor does Alef want to go through that process. So they've designed it to meet US "low speed vehicle" regulations, which will allow it to potter about on certain streets at speeds up to about 25 mph (40 km/h). Effectively, it'll fall into the same category as a golf cart.
In flight mode, well, perhaps it's closest to a tail-sitter? The chassis is nearly empty, and the top bodywork of the car is a carbon fiber grille. Eight coaxially-mounted vertical lift fans are mounted within, allegedly producing enough thrust to get it off the ground.
Then things get really weird. The one-to-two-seat cabin, which is mostly isolated from the "bodywork" of the car, rotates 90 degrees sideways, and then stays level on a gimbal type system as the aircraft begins moving forward, gathering speed and slowly tilting the bodywork around the cabin until the sides of the car effectively become a kind of biplane box-wing setup.
Alef says it'll do up to 200 miles (322 km) on a charge if you snail-pace it around on the street, or a fairly optimistic-sounding 110 miles (177 km) if you lift off and fly. The company is taking deposits now at a $300,000 price per Model A, and says it has a four-to-six-seat family version in its sights for 2035 or so.
In today's news, Alef announced it has received a limited Special Airworthiness Certification from the US FAA, "marking the first time a vehicle of this nature has received legal approval to fly from the US government."
"We're excited to receive this certification from the FAA," said CEO Jim Dukhovny in a press release. "It allows us to move closer to bringing people an environmentally friendly and faster commute, saving individuals and companies hours each week. This is a one small step for planes, one giant step for cars."
Alef says it's got "two working full-size technology demonstrator cars" along with the "sports car" it unveiled last year. It says it's been flying full transitions to cruise mode with scale models since 2018.
Now look, the Airworthiness Certification being celebrated here isn't the world's biggest deal; it's a necessary green light the company will need to fly a prototype, which is certainly nothing like the protracted battles larger air taxi companies are going through to achieve full design, manufacturing and type certification.
And with regard to the aircraft itself, well, we certainly applaud the fact these guys are thinking outside pretty much any box. But it's clearly a heavily compromised machine on the road, and frankly it might not be much chop in the air either. There's good reasons why most box-wings and biplanes have a tail to stabilize them in flight, and the drag created by the carbon grilles sandwiched between the upper and lower wings might be a lot more than Alef is planning to deal with.
And that's without the complexities of a cabin that's gimballed on at least two axes. We see a lot of problems here.
And without putting too fine a point on things, maybe it's worth taking a look at the launch event from October to give you a feel for the key people behind this company – particularly Dukhovny, who displays a hilarious fondness for standing in dramatic poses staring off at the ceiling while videos of himself walking down the street play behind him.
Frankly, we'll be very surprised if these make it to the market by the end of 2025, as promised – or at all, really. But Alef is certainly a curiosity, and we've been surprised before.
Enjoy the launch video below, complete with dodgy audio. And check out some other flying car projects, the good, the bad and the ugly, in Dezso Molnar's roundup from a few years back.