Outrageously ambitious VTOL flying car is FAA-approved for takeoff
The four-seat Aska A5 is the size of an SUV, but at the touch of a button it extends an array of electric propellers and converts to a cruise-capable eVTOL aircraft with an impressive hybrid range. The FAA has cleared it for flight testing.
Last time I looked, the year 2000 was 23 years ago. When I was a young'un, the year 2000 was supposed to be the future. We weren't just supposed to have flying cars and jetpacks, we were supposed to be commuting vertically on the daily.
Today, there are most certainly jetpacks, jetboards and jetsuits for the very brave. These are more or less exactly like you'd imagine them to be, except with sub-10 minute fuel loads and roaring turbine engines that damn near split the sky apart.
There are also several flying car projects out there, but they're nothing like what George Jetson zipped around in. "Roadable aircraft" is a better way to describe them. Most aren't technically cars, since few companies are willing to take on the brutal dual headaches of automotive and aircraft safety testing. So you get a lot of three-wheel single-seaters that can be registered as trikes, and the odd aircraft designed to pose as a golf cart on the street.
The Aska A5, however, has four wheels and four seats. Like the Klein Vision, it can take off on a runway if there's one available. Unlike the Klein Vision, it can also takeoff on a very short runway, or indeed no runway at all, thanks to an electric VTOL system that folds out at the touch of a button. And unlike, say, the Xpeng AeroHT, it's capable of transitioning to efficient, winged cruise mode to expand its range.
The A5 will look fairly ridiculous driving down the road, all propellers and struts, a clog with a dishrack full of cutlery piled on top. But when the main rear wing and canard fold out, it all makes a lot more sense. There are six large propellers, four at the back, two at the front, and in VTOL operations these will lift the Aska off the ground and allow it to hover. For forward flight, the two inner rear propellers can tilt forward, allowing horizontal thrust in cruise mode with the rest of the props switched off and the car's weight supported by its wings.
Whatever you think of the idea of flying cars, this one's wildly ambitious. That cruise-capable VTOL system alone, with its two tilting propellers, is massively more complex than most personal eVTOLs we've seen. Plus, it's on foldable front and rear wings. Plus, those wings are self-deploying. Plus, there are electric motors in the wheels capable of getting you from zero to 65 mph (105 km/h) in less than five seconds.
Oh, and there's a ballistic parachute, just in case. And because a lot of eVTOLs have such a poor range figure, this one gets a gasoline range extender to keep the batteries topped up. Aska claims a max flight range of 250 miles (402 km), plus reserve, at airspeeds up to 150 mph (240 km/h).
Ambitious might not even be the word here. The Aska team are clearly gluttons for punishment. But it's not a joke. There's a full-sized "working prototype" already built, and you can see it doing everything but flying in the video below.
And it's already flying, as well. The FAA has awarded the prototype Aska A5 not only a Special Airworthiness Certification, but a Certificate of Authorization, clearing it for takeoff in limited flight test scenarios.
As with similar certificates recently announced by air taxi market leader Joby Aviation and the team behind the extremely strange Alef Model A, this is not carte blanche to start selling these things as type-approved aircraft, but it does indicate that these companies have at least had their aircraft inspected and deemed not to be total death traps.
With driving and flight tests underway (albeit without providing any images of this thing in the air – or indeed, really any photos I'd consider keepers), Aska is frankly a lot further along than we'd have expected, given its hugely complex burger-with-the-lot approach.
“We have achieved a series of technological milestones in the first quarter of 2023; debuting the first full-scale working prototype of the ASKA A5 in January at CES, successfully performing field and driving tests, and obtaining the COA and Special Airworthiness Certification for our pre-production prototype,” says Guy Kaplinsky, CEO/Cofounder, in a press release. “The data we are harvesting from flight testing is enabling us to make progress towards our type certification. We already completed the initial phase and are progressing towards our next milestone, G1 status.”
G1 status is a stepping stone towards full FAA type certification. As a buy-n-fly personal aircraft, that type certification won't be as onerous as the process the eVTOL air taxi market is struggling through, but it's still not going to be any sort of picnic. We don't know where things stand with the NHTSA in terms of exactly how street-legal this prototype is, and how Aska plans to make its production A5s fully roadworthy and registerable, and the team won't be busting out hampers and blankets for that part either.
The A5 will thus earn every cent of its US$789,000 price tag if it makes it to market with full dual certification as an aircraft and a car. Aska says it's sold upwards of $50 million worth of pre-orders, representing more than 60 vehicles.
As the company told us in January at CES, people might consider that price tag high, but Aska prefers to think of it as a ticket to a cheaper lifestyle out in the countryside, where you could (theoretically, at some point) get yourself a cheap home on some land, and fly into town quicker than you could commute through traffic. Of course, you'd still have to land at an airport or helipad, so it won't completely eliminate traffic from your life, and you'd wanna have somewhere very secure to park the thing.
It's not George Jetson's whirring sky car. It's big, awkward-looking, super complex, fairly limited, and hideously expensive. It's got two gauntlets' worth of red tape ahead of it, and you'll need 40 hours of training and a pilot's license to fly it. We're still by no means convinced this thing can achieve both road and air certification, while remaining light enough to deliver a decent range. Indeed, we'll be gobsmacked if it does before the end of the decade.
But Aska certainly seems to be trying to deliver what the market says it wants: a push-button transforming flying car that can do VTOL and cruise, or glide to a landing in an emergency. And if it somehow makes it through to production, well, I guess we can all take a look at how practical and desirable the whole flying car concept is in the real world.