Is the Flying Car Finally Here?

The Dragon Ultralight Personal Air Vehicle is coming.

For over a hundred years, people have dreamed of personal flying cars. Recently, Rotor X Aircraft has announced the Dragon ultralight personal air vehicle (PAV). Does this mean the Age of Personal Flight has finally arrived, or are we still limited by technology and regulations? 

What is the Dragon PAV? Is it a Flying Car?

Let’s take a closer look at the Dragon. According to the manufacturer, the joystick-operated electric personal vehicle has eight motors. Those motors are powered by lithium batteries that give the potential driver a 20-minute fly time, followed by a two-hour charging time. 

The Dragon PAV also has a top speed of 63 mph and a passenger weight of 250 pounds. The PAV comes with “a ballistic parachute, sensor-driven auto takeoff and landing system, reinforced aluminum landing gear and a co-axial propeller configuration, which means that if one motor stops, the others will compensate allowing you to land safely,” according to the company.

Notably, the Dragon carries an initial price of $85,000, which is nearly twice the price of the average new car. Also, it ships as a kit that the owner will have to assemble themselves, which may prove to be a bit more complicated than assembling an Ikea bookshelf.  

They have an extensive FAQ section that will answer all your questions, like Is it recommended for inexperienced pilots? and Do you offer training?

FAA Regulations

An unmanned flight test by the eVTOL (electric takeoff and landing) ultralight Dragon PAV was just completed, a key step for planned deliveries, which have already started (Fall 2023).

Ultralight vehicles are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 103, which states that training or previous experience prior to operating the vehicle is not required. Additionally, FAA regulations state that ultralights are limited to recreation and sport purposes and the operator, not the manufacturer or seller, is responsible for meeting the requirements for operating under FAA Part 103. 

What does this mean? The FAA expects that ultralight “activity is a sport generally conducted away from concentrations of population and aircraft operations.” This would prohibit using the Dragon anywhere populated – so, sorry, no grocery runs or trips to the store. 

Additionally, ultralight vehicles cannot be used for aerial advertising or carrying parcels for hire and cannot be capable of going faster than 63 mph. So, no Uber Eats, no Amazon package delivery, and no competitive racing. 

Other EAV (electric aerial vehicle) craft created to carry more than one passenger require airworthiness certification from the FAA for flight testing. In other words, any EAV above ultralight will carry the same requirements and responsibilities of owning and operating an aircraft, just like airplanes and helicopters. 

What is the Market for PAV?

Several PAVs from different companies are coming to market in the coming months, driven in part by the ease of market entry without the need for regulatory approvals. However, it is clear that the Age of the Flying Car still has not arrived. Between a potentially prohibitive cost, short flying time, weight limitations, and other FAA restrictions, the usefulness of a PAV is limited to hobbyists with working technical know-how to assemble the kit, a unpopulated area to limit flying to, and have a significant amount of money to invest in it all. 

In Summary: 

The technology for personal flying vehicles has been around for quite some time now. The difficulties of being a “flying car” to market haven’t been technical in nature. Safety has always been the primary hurdle to clear. Traditional road-based vehicles continue to crash with regularity. Generally, these kinds of accidents are limited to roadways, but with a flying car, any mishap can occur anywhere. Whether it be a mechanical failure or driver error, no one wants a car to come crashing down from the sky – a much more dangerous, unpredictable, and potentially lethal accident. We can only hope that any personal flying vehicle that doesn’t require special training and regular maintenance regulations will be safe enough for the public to enjoy.

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