Why this bizarre, piloted flying car is critical for drones

There’s a rather bizarre-looking, piloted flying car both driving the streets of Silicon Valley, California these days. And though this vehicle does have a human pilot, it just marked a major milestone that signals good things for people banking on a future filled with passenger drones. It’s called the ASKA A5.

The ASKA A5 is made by a Mountain View, California-based company called ASKA. And this vehicle is the world’s first flying car to start the type certification process with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Type certification is a common theme in the drone industry as it shows that the aircraft’s design and components have been deemed safe in the eyes of the FAA (certification affirms that FAA requirements have been met). For new and unconventional aircraft like drones — and yes, this piloted flying car — FAA type certification is critical.

ASKA A5 piloted flying car
Photo courtesy of ASKA.

What to know about the ASKA A5 Drive and Fly piloted flying car

The ASKA A5 is a vehicle with four seats that can drive on roads like a traditional automobile, but it can also fly. It’s an eVTOL aircraft, which is a common design seen in the drone industry — particularly with delivery drones — as it allows the drone to complete vertical takeoffs and landings (like a helicopter) but also enables it to fly through the air (like an airplane). It combines the best of both worlds: the space-efficiency of being able to takeoff and land on a simple pad rather than a runway, but the flight efficiency of longer flight times and distances.

It’s roughly the same size as an SUV, and it is capable of driving on roads right along normal cars.

Here are some other key ASKA A5 specs:

  • Capable of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) from helipads and Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) from runways 
  • Dual hybrid energy supply: ASKA uses both batteries and a range extender engine that charges the batteries in-flight, alongside premium gasoline available from any gas station
  • 6 independent motor systems for flight
  • Ballistic parachute
  • 4 seats (1 pilot and 3 passengers)
  • Max flight range: 250 miles
  • Max airspeed: 150mph
ASKA A5 piloted flying car
Photo courtesy of ASKA.

In theory, there’s minimal need for other infrasturcture to create a wold where aircraft like the ASKA A5 operate. This aircraft uses existing infrastructure, such as parking, charging stations, airfields, helipads and runways to operate in city and suburban landscapes.

“The vehicle fits in standard parking spaces, it can be charged at home and EV charging stations, and the range extender engine runs on premium gasoline purchased at existing automotive gas stations,” according to a statement from the company.

ASKA A5 piloted flying car
Photo courtesy of ASKA.

What’s next for the ASKA A5

ASKA has been going through ground testing since 2022. Then, the company debuted its first full-scale working prototype of the ASKA A5 in January at CES 2023. In fact, ASKA’s prototype was already awarded Certificate of Authorization (COA) and Special Airworthiness Certification by the FAA and has started flight testing. The company also started on-street driving tests in the first quarter of 2023.

And now, the specific ASKA A5 is claiming to be the world’s first flying car to advance with Type Certification, flight and driving testing in-progress.

Data harvested from flight tests will be what the company needs to progress toward type certification. Since ASKA has already completed the initial phase, it’s now taking the next step which is attaining G1 status. That would mark another critical milestone in the FAA cross-validation process, as it shows that the aircraft meets the airworthiness and environmental requirements necessary to achieve FAA Type Certification Validation.

And you might very well see ASKA driving (or flying over) the streets of Silicon Valley.
“We are working with local airports in the Bay Area to test and confirm our concept of operations,” Maki Kaplinsky, CoFounder/Chair & COO said in a prepared statement. “They open the gate, ASKA A5 drives in as a car, drives/taxis to the helipad or runway, transforms into the flight mode and can take off.” 

And it seems like people want one for their own. The company said it has already secured $50 million in pre-orders since the order window opened in 2021.

And as far as actual cost? The pre-order price is $789,000, though the deposit to get on the pre-order list is just $5,000.

ASKA A5 piloted flying car
Photo courtesy of ASKA.

Why the ASKA A5 is crucial for drones

For starters, the aircraft ASKA has put forward is largely similar to the passenger drone prototypes we’ve seen fro companies like AIR and EHang save for perhaps the obvious: a pilot versus no pilot.

There seems to be some general sentiment against pilotless aircraft. Even if studies prove that robots are better pilots and drivers than humans, humans have a tough time accepting that. Thats left piloted drones with a few challenges to solve: the problem of introducing a new type of aircraft, integrating into the airspace and getting people comfortable with no actual pilot.

ASKA A5 only has to tackle the first two challenges, which might be significantly easier. And with the second challenge — integrating into airspace — ASKA has also made some great strides. In 2020, ASKA signed a five-year Space Act Agreement with NASA to advance their participation in NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign (AAM), jointly organized with the FAA.

By the way, ASKA is hiring for all sorts of engineering and piloting roles.

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