NFT today unveiled plans for a four-seat eVTOL aircraft that it intends to market to private owner-pilots for personal transportation. The California-based start-up describes the hybrid-electric Aska as a flying car or an SUV but intends to certify the aircraft under the FAA’s Part 23 rules. Its maximum takeoff weight is reported as being between two and three metric tons (4,400 to 6,600 pounds), making it too heavy to be certified in the light sport aircraft category.
The design of the Aska is radically different from that of a prototype that NFT unveiled in June 2019. That vehicle looked more like an archetypal flying car and had long, foldable wings with tilting ducted fans at the tips and two more at the rear.
Superficially, the new Aska looks more like similarly sized eVTOL designs now being advanced by companies such as Joby Aviation and Archer. However, since it is intended to be driven on roads, it has a wing that tilts and folds to deploy a pair of propellers that can be used for vertical and cruise flight. There are four other sets of vertical-lift propellers on beams that can also extend and retract to transition between flight and drive modes.
Each of the six propellers will have its own electric motor. Supplementary power comes from what NFT describes as an “engine generator” that will run on regular gasoline to constantly recharge batteries. According to the company, the generator is an engine already certified for use on an aircraft, but it will not reveal the identity of the supplier. The projected range is 250 miles.
In March 2020, NFT was one of six companies selected to join NASA’s Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge, along with Joby, Bell, Boeing, Prodentity, and Zeva. The company is aiming to have a full-scale prototype ready to start flight testing as part of this program in 2022 as it prepares to complete type certification in time to start deliveries in 2026. It says that it has already flown an unmanned subscale model.
NFT was founded in 2018 by entrepreneurs Maki Kaplinsky (COO) and Guy Kaplinsky (CEO). They have self-funded development work so far but recently started seeking outside investment to raise the estimated $1 billion that they say they'll need to bring the Aska to market.
According to NFT, Aska owners will be able to drive the vehicle to and from their homes, or on city streets. It added that initially, it expects to be able to complete the approval process only for the vehicle to drive on local roads and that clearance for highway use will likely take longer.
The company’s business model is based on the premise that owners will be able to fly the Aska with just a private pilot’s license (PPL) and it intends for the purchase price to cover training. However, the FAA has not yet confirmed how it intends to categorize training requirements for eVTOL aircraft that have multiple electric motors.
Under current rules, the holder of a PPL can fly any piston or turboprop aircraft weighing up to 12,500 pounds but would need a multi-engine rating if the aircraft has more than one engine. It is still to be determined whether the FAA and other regulators will institute specific training requirements to take account of the ways in which eVTOLs differ from existing aircraft. Most other eVTOL aircraft developers anticipate that their models would be flown, at least initially, by more experienced pilots with commercial certificates.
NFT has opened a showroom for the Aska in Los Altos, where it is based. The initial “limited edition” production run of the Aska is now available for preorder at $789,000, with early prospective customers required to place a $5,000 refundable deposit in an escrow account. This offer will be available to up to 1,500 people who will be enrolled in a “Founders’ Club” whose members will each be awarded a single share in the company and be included in consultation events. NFT says the purchase price is set to drop to $359,000 after 2030 if production rates increase as hoped.
NFT has around 35 employees and says that these include experienced engineers from companies including Gulfstream, Sikorsky, and Mitsubishi Aircraft. It also has recruited from several automotive companies. The company says that it is in discussions with prospective suppliers for key systems such as the engine and the avionics.