Opener, the U.S. start-up behind the BlackFly personal eVTOL aircraft, says it is on track to begin collecting orders from customers this year—but the company isn’t making any promises or setting a firm date just yet.
“We're feeling good about 2023,” Opener CEO Ken Karklin said last week during the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL Symposium in Mesa, Arizona. “But as anyone who is in charge of a large complex engineering program knows, you're always just one test report away from a three- or six-month slip. And if it involves certain hardware, it could be longer than that, but most of the risk has been burned down.”
Founded as SkyKar in 2008, Opener claims to have developed the world’s first fully electric, fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft for personal transportation. In October 2011, Canadian engineer and company founder Marcus Leng conducted the first crewed test flight of a fixed-wing eVTOL aircraft, a proof-of-concept vehicle that paved the way for the construction of the initial BlackFly prototype. Leng flew that prototype for the first time in 2014, after which he relocated the company from Canada to Palo Alto, California.
Opener unveiled a preproduction version of the BlackFly in 2018, and since then the company has shown off the aircraft at airshows around the U.S., conducting several public flight demonstrations. Most recently, the BlackFly did four crewed flight demonstrations at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in July 2022.
After the aircraft's public debut at the AirVenture show in 2021, Opener said it was close to accepting the first orders from customers, but the company has yet to start taking any. For now, it is focused on wrapping up the final stages of validation testing, and it has not yet decided exactly when it will begin collecting orders, although it aims to do so sometime in 2023.
Initially being offered under the FAA’s Part 103 rules for ultralight aircraft, the single-seat, fly-by-wire BlackFly will not require FAA type certification, and operators do not need a pilot’s license to fly it in the U.S. However, to operate the aircraft in Canada, an ultralight pilot license will be required. Per FAA regulations, the aircraft can be flown only during the daytime in visual flight rule (VFR) conditions, and it may not fly over congested areas or in controlled airspace.
With an empty weight of 348 pounds (158 kilograms), the BlackFly’s maximum payload is about 230 pounds (104 kilograms), and the occupant must be under 78 inches (198 centimeters) tall to fit inside under the bubble canopy. The aircraft features two 13.6-foot cantilevered tandem wings mounted on the front and rear of its small fuselage, and each wing has four propellers with electric motors.
Although Opener has previously said the BlackFly will have a range of 30 miles (48 kilometers) on a single charge, Karklin said it will likely have a shorter range of about 20 miles (32 kilometers). However, “this is with a lot of very, very generous safety factors being applied to battery reserves,” Karklin said. He explained that the batteries powering the BlackFly use technology that’s five or six years old and that the aircraft’s range could increase as newer batteries with higher energy densities become commercially available.
Flying at a top speed of 55 knots, the BlackFly will be able to operate for about 20 minutes on a single charge, and it will take 20 to 30 minutes to fully recharge it using a 240-volt quick charger. With a standard 120-volt home charger, it would take significantly longer.
So far Opener has conducted more than 5,000 flight tests covering more than 36,000 miles with the BlackFly. For the remaining flight tests, there are “still some corner cases to be explored in terms of dynamic amphibious operation,” Karklin said. “It is not a seaplane [and it] is not a water toy, but we want it to be robust in the water.”
“We're also continuing to work on higher altitudes and hot temperatures,” Karklin added. “We've got some hours in flight to accumulate down there. So if there are some UFO sightings somewhere outside of Mexico City in a few months, you'll know why.