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Lift unveils aircraft built for fun flights

Lift Hexa aircraft
Lift’s Hexa ultralight aircraft is designed for recreational outings. (Lift Aircraft via YouTube)

A startup created by Matt Chasen, the founder of the uShip online shipping marketplace, aims to sell rides on electric-powered aircraft that are so simple to operate that tourists can take them out for a spin.

Lift Aircraft is based in Austin, Texas, but Chasen told GeekWire that Seattle is high on the list of places where the company’s Hexa ultralights could have their first outings.

“Seattle is one of the pioneering cities in aerospace and aviation,” said Chasen, who stepped down from his role as Austin-based uShip’s CEO in 2016.

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Report: Flying-car market could hit $1.5 trillion

Aurora eVTOL
An artist’s conception shows the eVTOL air taxi being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. (Aurora / BCG Digital Ventures via YouTube)

The market for autonomous flying cars — also known as eVTOL aircraft, air taxis or personal air vehicles — could amount to nearly $1.5 trillion by the year 2040, according to an in-depth analysis from Morgan Stanley Research.

The financial company’s 85-page report, distributed to clients this week, draws together data from a host of sources, including a private-public symposium on urban air mobility that was conducted last month in Seattle.

“We see the development of the UAM [urban air mobility] ecosystem as extremely long-dated and requiring up-front capital allocation, testing and development in the short term, with increasing visibility;” said Morgan Stanley’s research team, which includes senior analyst Adam Jonas.

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Audi and Airbus show off mini-me flying car

Pop.Up Next prototype
Audi, Airbus and Italdesign are showing off a quarter-scale prototype of their “Pop.Up Next” drone-car hybrid at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference. (Audi AG Photo)

A flying car developed by Airbus, Audi and Italdesign took a high-profile test flight today at the Amsterdam Drone Week conference, but its size was low-profile.

The modular vehicle was a quarter-scale demonstration model of the “Pop.Up Next” transportation system that the three companies are developing.

The idea is to have a passenger compartment that can sit on top of a four-wheeled electric vehicle to travel the roads, or attach to the bottom of a quadcopter to fly through the air. At the Amsterdam show, the three companies displayed impressive full-scale mockups of the flying car, but the gizmo that actually flew was basically a drone with brackets attached.

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NASA and FAA get set for giant leap in air mobility

Urban air mobility vision
An artist’s conception shows an urban air mobility environment, trafficked by air vehicles with a variety of missions and with or without pilots. (NASA Illustration / Lillian Gipson)

The rise of air mobility options ranging from delivery drones to air taxis and flying cars is shaping up as the biggest thing to hit aviation since the introduction of jet engines, NASA’s top official on aeronautics says.

“I happen to believe that this is a revolution coming in aviation,” Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, told a Seattle audience this week. “But if we do not methodically practice our best practices and all the know-how in the aviation field, this could become a total disaster.”

To avoid that total disaster, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have set up a process called the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenges, modeled in part on the DARPA Grand Challenges that set the stage for autonomous ground vehicles more than a decade ago.

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Flying cars grab air show’s spotlight

Rolls-Royce eVTOL
Artwork shows Rolls-Royce’s eVTOL air vehicle flying over Seattle. (Rolls-Royce Illustration)

The next few days will bring dueling announcements from Boeing and Airbus about how many jetliners they’re selling, but one of the hottest tech frontiers at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow looks forward to something completely different: flying cars.

Aston Martin, the British car company that Agent 007 made famous in a string of James Bond movies, is getting into the act. So is the civil aerospace team at Rolls-Royce, a company that’s as British as it gets.

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Flying-car startup puts BlackFly on the fast track

BlackFly in flight
Opener says the BlackFly personal air vehicle has gone through 1,400 test flights. (Opener Photo)

A Silicon Valley startup called Opener is taking the wraps off a single-seat, all-electric flying vehicle known as BlackFly, which the company says will require no formal licensing in the U.S.

“The future of aviation begins today,” Alan Eustace, a former Google executive (and record-setting free-fall skyjumper) who is now a director at Opener, said in a news release. “The dream of flight, which was so difficult and expensive to obtain, will soon be within the reach of millions. Opener is putting the fun back into flying and opening up a new world of possibilities.”

Opener says a developmental version of the tandem-wing, eight-rotor craft has gone into the air more than 1,400 times, with the total distance flown exceeding 12,000 miles.

The vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft is flown with a joystick, has a pushbutton “Return-to-Home” system for autonomous flight back to its base, and can be outfitted with an emergency parachute.

“Safety has been our primary driving goal in the development of this new technology,” Opener CEO Marcus Leng said. “Opener will be introducing this innovation in a controlled and responsible manner.  Even though not required by FAA regulations, BlackFly operators will be required to successfully complete the FAA Private Pilot written examination and also complete company-mandated vehicle familiarization and operator training.”

In an interview with CBS, Leng said Opener is aiming to put BlackFly on the market next year for the “price of an SUV.”

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GoFly Prize unveils 10 designs for flying machines

TeTra flying machine
The teTra 3 air vehicle is one of the Phase 1 winners in the GoFly Prize competition. (Team teTra via GoFly)

Some of the designs look like winged motorcycles. There’s a cute mini-airplane with stubby wings. And a couple of the contraptions look more like time machines than flying machines.

The diversity among the winners in the first phase of the $2 million GoFly Prize competition for personal air vehicles doesn’t faze Gwen Lighter, the program’s founder and CEO. The way she sees it, that’s what’s wonderful about the contest.

“Just like there there are many different types of cars available to drive, so too the diversity that we are seeing in the many different types of personal flying solutions that have been submitted will allow the public to be able to choose the best method for whatever they are doing at that particular moment,” she told GeekWire. “In that sense, it’s very exciting to see all the different permutations.”

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Uber CEO touts flying cars and change in attitude

Uber air taxi
This artist’s conception shows the reference model for Uber’s future air taxis. (Uber via YouTube)

Uber executives are providing an update on their plans to put flying cars in the air by 2020, with commercial rides beginning in 2023, but the most pointed comments from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi address the rideshare company’s present challenges.

Khosrowshahi’s interview with CBS News came in conjunction with today’s kickoff of the second annual Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles, which focuses on Uber’s plans to operate fleets of electric-powered, vertical-takeoff-and-landing air taxis.

“We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” Khosrowshahi told CBS.

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Boeing CEO hails the air taxi as the next big thing

Aurora eVTOL
An artist’s conception shows the eVTOL air taxi being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. (Aurora / BCG Digital Ventures via YouTube)

It’s not exactly a revelation that the Boeing Co. is interested in autonomous flight, including robo-planes that can fly people. But in a Bloomberg News interview, Boeing’s CEO says air taxis could be coming sooner than expected.

“I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” Dennis Muilenburg, who also serves as Boeing’s president and chairman, told Bloomberg in last week’s interview. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.”

The timetable for technology adoption will depend on how quickly regulators work out the “rules of the road” for autonomous flight, he said.

Fleets of air taxis could well become commonplace within a decade, Muilenburg said, but he cautioned that “it won’t be all turned on in one day.”

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Vahana shows off video of flying car’s first flight

Vahana, the Airbus-backed venture that’s developing a fleet of electric-powered air taxis, shared the results of its first flight test amid the prairies of eastern Oregon three weeks ago. But now there’s video showing the Alpha One octocopter landing on its airstrip at the Pendleton UAS Test Range.

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