How we are going to get everyone flying

Gonzalo Espinoza Graham
4 min readFeb 21, 2020
Atlas: Watfly’s single-seat VTOL aircraft

Flight is the most effective means of transportation. That is why the President flies around in a helicopter, celebrities in private jets, and why critical patients are flown in air ambulances. Still, personal flight remains a luxury, and for the rest of us, transportation means roads and soul-crushing traffic.

To democratize flight, we need flying cars. That is, an aircraft that is similar to a car: affordable to most, as easy to pilot as cars are to drive, as safe as commercial air travel, and with convenient, practical use. Said aircraft would eliminate aviation’s existing barriers to entry, and would do to aviation, what the automobile did for personal transportation.

Today, only a tiny group of people enjoy access to cheap and small recreational aircraft, ranging from power gliders and ultralights, to experimental airplanes. The thrill of flying these aircraft is huge, but they are statistically less safe than commercial aircraft, require substantial aeronautical ability, and hundreds of hours of flight training to pilot.

Why is flying the future?

Fixed-wing flight requires little infrastructure other than runways, but vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) further reduces this to near zero. Using this technology allows you to take off wherever you are and land where you need to be, without the need for a last mile solution.

In the air, there are no traffic lights, and no bottlenecks, meaning we can achieve higher sustained travel speeds and efficiency, leading to shorter travel times and allowing us to cover longer distances.

How are you making flight affordable?

Making air transportation affordable requires both affordable vehicles and affordable operational costs.

The first is achieved by:

Reducing development timelines and certification costs. A commercial airliner takes over 5 years and >$500m to certify. However, a small aircraft can be certified in under a year, leading to shorter development cycles which allows us to bring cutting edge performance to market, faster.

Reduced complexity: this goes hand in hand with aircraft price. Replacing internal combustion engines and jets with electric powertrains will reduce part count by 2 orders of magnitude.

Economies of scale: There is currently no flying vehicle being produced at automotive volumes. This has kept the prices high and limited the manufacturing techniques available. A small, electric VTOL aircraft such as Watfly’s would be the first aircraft to be produced at automotive volumes, drastically reducing the manufacturing cost.

Operational affordability: by replacing the cost of carbon fuels with electricity, the flight operating cost (FOC) is fractionated. The much simpler drivetrain — with fewer parts to fail/maintain — further reduces ground operating costs.

The other high cost of operating an aircraft today comes from pilot certification and training costs. Bringing flight to people at an automotive scale would increase the need for pilots beyond the current number of pilots in existence. In order to avoid this bottleneck and reduce the cost of flying our vehicles, Watfly will develop Autonomous Flight (AF) which will substitute human pilots and fly the aircraft from take off to landing.

State of the VTOL Industry

There are 100s of VTOL prototypes in development, with new projects emerging every week. Most of these are not designed to be flying cars, but rather more efficient helicopters. Truth is, no one looks at these 3 ton, 5 passenger, multi-rotor aircraft and thinks “I would like to buy one,” or “I could see myself flying that” and much less “I wonder if that fits on my driveway.” They are creating flying busses, not flying cars.

Our Master Plan

Our initial product will be a single-seat recreational aircraft under 254 lbs, priced as a luxury vehicle. It will fall within the most open aircraft category in the United States: ultralights. This means our vehicle will be pilotable without the need for a license or airworthiness certificate — although our aircraft will be built to meet or exceed those requirements. We will bring VTOL, an electric power-train, and computer assisted controls to the ultralight market for the first time, eliminating the need for runways, making flying as easy as flying a drone, and providing improved safety features.

This first luxury single seater — while revolutionary in its category — will not be a full fledged flying car. Ultralight aircraft can only fly in Class G airspace (~80% of the USA), ruling out flying in urban environments, thus reducing practicality. At the same time, a single seat, a high price tag, and a limited travel range all fall short of the flying car promise of an aircraft for the masses. In automotive terms, this will be our Model N, the model Ford produced prior to the first mass-produced car: the Model T.

All revenue generated will be directed towards the R&D of subsequent products, therefore, sales of our first luxury recreational aircraft will pay for the development of the ultimate flying car. The second product will be a two-seat aircraft — and without giving away too much — it will be certified to fly above regulated air spaces. Each iteration will lead to enhanced AF, longer range, and make the vehicles more affordable.

Get ready to fly.

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