Just under 100 prospective buyers placed deposits for NFT’s Aska four-seat eVTOL vehicle following a launch event at the California company’s Los Altos showroom in April. The company is offering up to 1,500 people the chance to enroll in a “Founders Club” by placing a refundable $5,000 deposit to preorder the initial “limited edition” production run of the Aska, which is priced at $789,000. Members each receive a single share in the company and are included in regular consultation meetings.
According to co-founder and CEO Guy Kaplinsky, the response to the launch event validated NFT’s expectation that the majority of Aska buyers will be private owner-pilots who intend to use the vehicle for personal transportation. However, he told FutureFlight that the company has also attracted some interest from people with other uses in mind, such as emergency medical support.
The 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.
“Most of the people who have placed orders are not interested in flying in larger [private] aircraft, even though they could afford to buy these,” said co-founder and COO Maki Kaplinsky. “They like the ‘drive and fly’ concept for daily use.”
One of NFT’s primary marketing points is that even the fanciest private jet will only get you to an airport. However, it remains to be seen whether the 'drive and fly' proposition—which is partly supported by California weather conditions that are largely favorable to year-round private flying under visual flight rules—can be replicated in other parts of the U.S. or around the world.
According to the Kaplinskys, the high cost of living around major California cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles is prompting people to look for ways to live farther away. “This allows you to move 100 miles away and save between 70 and 80 percent [on the cost of a home], with a better quality of life,” said Guy Kaplinsky.
Northern California residents Katie and Jon Lohman are a case in point and were among those signing up as Founders Club members at the launch event. In a video interview, Katie Lohman told NFT that the couple view the hybrid-electric Aska as a “bridge” between outlying rural areas and cities. She added that smaller towns stand to benefit from the improved connectivity, allowing them to “retain their talent, vibrancy in their community, and greater [tax] revenue” by not losing residents who would otherwise feel the need to move into cities to find work.
David Yancey grew up in what is now Silicon Valley before it became a magnet for tech businesses that drove up living costs. He said he has waited a long time for an option like Aska to arrive so that he won’t have to choose between “the tranquility of the countryside and all the activities in a city.”
John, an executive with a Silicon Valley tech company who withheld his family name, said that he views the Aska as an addition to his current air transportation arrangements, rather than an alternative. A qualified pilot, he says he already owns a Cessna Citation Mustang jet, a Gulfstream GV, and an A4 Skyhawk fighter. He is now planning to add an Aska to this mix.
It was local physician Dr. Deepak Khuntia who alerted NFT to the potential for the Aska to save time in trauma response situations. Having gone through a medical emergency in his own family, he said that he came to appreciate more acutely how every minute can make a difference to the outcomes from these events.
According to Guy Kaplinsky, car lovers account for a significant portion of the Aska early-adopter demographic. This group includes a 104-year-old lady who attended the launch event with her son, who promptly became a Founders Club member.
By the end of 2021, NFT intends to start manufacturing and assembling a full-scale prototype of the Aska, with a view to starting ground testing in early 2022. It is already flying a small-scale model to support software development work. The company is also looking to add to its team of around 35 employees.
Superficially, the new Aska design looks fairly similar to other eVTOL models intended for air taxi operations. 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 NFT will not name the supplier. The projected range is 250 miles.
According to NFT, Aska owners will be able to drive the vehicle to and from their homes or on city streets. It added that it expects to initially 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 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.