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FAA Approves Test Flights for Real-Life $300,000 Electric Flying Car
Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.
You might think that one time travel adventure might be enough for a lifetime, but in the final scene of Back to the Future, Marty (Michael J. Fox) hops into the passenger seat of Doc Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) DeLorean and sets out for parts, and times, unknown. We didn’t know what that adventure would be yet (to find out, we had to wait for Back to the Future II) but we knew it was going to be wild because Doc Brown flipped down his suitability retro-future style sunglasses, flipped a switch, and the DeLorean took to the air with a suitably cool quip. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
When we came back for the sequel Marty, Doc Brown, and Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) arrived in the distant future of 2015, where kids ride hoverboards, adults drive flying cars, and they’re still making Jaws movies. Sadly, 2015 came and went and there aren’t any flying cars in sight. At least not any that look and feel like the flying cars of our imagination. However, all of that is primed to change, thanks to the folks at Alef Aeronautics.
Alef Aeronautics Built the Flying Car of our Sci-Fi Dreams
The company got its start in 2015, perhaps sensing a profound lack where flying cars should have been, and they built their first full-size prototype in 2019. They’ve been testing it for the last four years and the company just received a Special Airworthiness Certification from the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA). The certification allows them to run road and flight tests in limited locations and for limited purposes. Alef will also need to meet National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration standards before their vehicle can be offered publicly.
The Palo Alto, California company set out to meet three vital criteria for their hybrid vehicle. First, it had to be a car, not an airplane posing as a car. That meant it had to look like a car and be capable of operating on public roads and parking in public parking spaces. Second, it had to be capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Otherwise, Alef suggests, you have a specialized aircraft, not a flying car. Finally, it had to be affordable to more than just the uber rich.
The company’s Model A, the vehicle which received FAA approval for test flights, is totally electric and capable of going a couple hundred miles on a full charge. It’s a low-speed ground vehicle, topping out at about 25 miles per hour. The company suggests that pilots wanting to go faster than that take advantage of the vehicle’s aerial capabilities. The driving range of the current model tops out at roughly 200 miles, and you can get about 110 miles over the air.
The vehicle is comprised of a solid mesh frame which houses internal rotors. Nestled in the center is a gimballed compartment which ensures passengers remain stable and comfortable even when the vehicle is careening through the air. Safety is an obvious priority and Alef has equipped the Model A with between triple and octuple redundancy for all critical components as well as obstacle detection and avoidance, and glide landing.
The Model A succeeds in meeting the company’s first two criteria. It unquestionably looks like a car, albeit one with an unusual design, and it is capable of driving on public roads, parking in public parking spaces, and vertical takeoff and landing. The third goal, affordability, remains slightly out of reach. The Alef Model A went up for pre-order on October 19, 2022, with an estimated retail cost of $300,000. It’s cheap enough that it might appeal to more than just the wealthiest consumers but remains out of economic reach for most folks.
Alef hopes to make good on their final goal with an upcoming model. The Alef Model Z is a planned four-person sedan targeting launch in 2035. It will have an extended range of 400 road miles and 200 air miles with a starting price of just $35,000.
If you want a crack at the Model A, you can get in on the pre-orders with only $150.00 down. That’ll get you into the ordinary queue with everyone else. If you’re willing to drop $1,500 in advance, you can put yourself in the priority queue and get first dibs on your flying car. Delivery is planned for late 2025, provided the remaining tests and approvals go smoothly. We’re getting our flying cars a decade later than we expected, but of all the ways Doc and Marty might have messed up the timeline, a 10-year delay on air cars isn’t too bad.
The entire Back to the Future franchise is available from Universal Pictures.