The flying car closer to everyday life

SkyDrive’s eight-rotor machine could revolutionise passenger transport in crowded cities in a few years. There is no universally accepted definition of a flying car, but it is almost universally accepted that these vehicles are characterised by electric propulsion, a fully autonomous autopilot and the ability to take off and land vertically. In some countries they are called “electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft” (eVTOL), which implies that the ability to taxi on the ground is not a necessity.

There have been many flying cars in the technology press, but in Japan only the SkyDrive vehicle has yet received a type certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. (MLIT). The application for the Toyota-backed startup, which develops flying cars and cargo drones specialising in aerial mobility solutions, was approved by MLIT on 29 October.

What is a type certificate ?

According to the Japanese Civil Aviation Law, MLIT issues a Type Certificate of Airworthiness to certify that the design, construction, strength and performance of newly developed aircraft meet the necessary safety and environmental requirements. The certificate is issued only after the aircraft has passed a series of tests, including strength and flight capability tests.

What can the SD-03 do ?

Intended as the new means of transport of the near future, SD-03 is designed to be the world’s smallest and most manoeuvrable ‘electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft’. Two metres high, four metres wide and four metres long, it takes up only as much space on the ground as two parked cars. Each of its four corners has two or three rotors, which rotate separately in opposite directions, each driven by a separate motor. Thanks to the eight motors, the vehicle, which has a top speed of 100 km/h, can land safely even if two or three of its motors fail.

There are two white lights at the front and a red light running around the bottom of the bodywork, features typical of flying cars, designed to make it easy for observers to see from below where the vehicle is heading when it is hovering. Commercialisation is planned within three years, mainly for air taxi companies.

When did you first fly ?

The first public demonstration flight of SD-03 took place on 25 August 2020, the first of its kind in Japan. The flight took place at Toyota’s test track, one of the largest vehicle testing facilities on the island nation and home to the SkyDrive development centre. The single-seat SD-03 took off in the early evening and circled the field for about four minutes. Although piloted by a human pilot, a computer-aided control system ensured the stability and safety of the flight from the background, while on-site technical staff acted as backup to monitor conditions and aircraft operations.

“SkyDrive and MLIT have been discussing the safe development and testing of this type of aircraft since the launch of the Public-Private Council for Urban Air Mobility in Japan in 2018, and since SkyDrive received permission for the first outdoor test flight of its flying car. We are very pleased that our application for a type certificate has been accepted and will continue to work closely with the government and the ministry to develop a fully safe and reliable flying car.” – said Fukuzawa Tomohiro, CEO of SkyDrive.

History of SkyDrive

SkyDrive was founded in July 2018 with the mission to be a leading company in the once-in-a-century mobility revolution. They are primarily developing flying cars and cargo drones, and are working with others to make these vehicles part of everyday transportation in the future. SkyDrive is the only company in Japan to have successfully completed test flights of flying cars with people on board, and is also involved in shaping the future social system of air mobility as a member of the Japanese Public-Private Council for Advanced Air Mobility.

As a testament to their expertise, their cargo drones with payloads of more than 30 kg are already in use in Japan, particularly in difficult-to-reach mountainous areas. SkyDrive is currently working on a two-seat version of the SD-03, which they hope to have ready for the Osaka World Expo in 2025.

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