eVTOL flying car with a gimballed cabin earns preliminary FAA approval

Alef Model A eVTOL Flying Car
In flight, the cabin rotates sideways and remains stabilized on a gimbal as the vehicle tilts, transforming the side panels into airfoils, creating a one-of-a-kind eVTOL biplane with panoramic views during cruise flight. Images © Alef Aeronautics

Alef Model A has achieved a significant milestone in the rapidly advancing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) sector, albeit with a decidedly unique approach to the idea of a flying car. Priced at US$300,000, this remarkable electric vehicle not only meets certain criteria for road use but also possesses unique flight capabilities. Recently, Alef announced it had secured limited FAA certification for the Model A.

We initially laid our eyes on this intriguing design in October of the previous year. It’s an unconventional spin on the traditional flying car idea, blurring the line between an eVTOL and a street-legal vehicle.

On the road, the Alef Model A adheres to the “low-speed vehicle” regulations in the U.S., allowing it to meander along certain roads at speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h), equivalent to a golf cart’s pace. Alef bypassed automotive-grade crash tests and high-speed regulations by opting for this classification.

In terms of flight, Alef’s design turns heads. The car’s body, primarily a carbon fiber grille, houses eight coaxially-mounted vertical lift fans. According to Alef, these generate sufficient thrust to lift the vehicle off the ground.

Alef Model A eVTOL Flying Car Doors Open
The necessity to open two doors on each side for entry stems from the unique design of the tilting cabin and biplane airfoils.

The Model A’s design then becomes truly distinctive. The one-to-two-seat cabin, largely separated from the bodywork, rotates 90 degrees sideways. On a gimbal system, the cabin remains level as the aircraft gathers momentum, slowly tilting the bodywork around the cabin until the car’s sides function as a biplane box-wing.

As for its range, Alef promises up to 200 miles (322 km) on a single charge at low speeds on the road, or an optimistic 110 miles (177 km) airborne. Deposits are currently being accepted for the Model A, and Alef has a vision for a larger family version in the pipeline, projected for around 2035.

Recently, Alef declared that it had received a limited Special Airworthiness Certification from the U.S. FAA, a first for a vehicle of this type. CEO Jim Dukhovny hailed this as a victory for environmentally friendly and time-efficient transportation in a press statement.

Alef Model A Flying Car Top View
An overhead view of Model A reveals its eVTOL identity and hints at the extraordinary rotating feature of the cabin.

This certificate indicates a step forward but doesn’t signify an end to the journey. It is a preliminary approval necessary for flying a prototype, a comparatively minor victory compared to the arduous processes larger air taxi companies undergo for comprehensive certification.

Regarding the Alef Model A, while the company’s audacious outside-the-box approach is commendable, the vehicle’s design might be too compromised. On the road, it lacks typical car capabilities, and in the air, it faces potential stability and drag issues due to its biplane box-wing design and carbon grilles. The complexity of the gimballed cabin further compounds these issues, presenting considerable challenges.

Alef Model A Flying Car Doors Closed
Model A appears as a sleek little convertible, belying the astonishing versatility of its unique design.

Alef aims to market these vehicles by the end of 2025, an ambitious timeline considering the technical hurdles and regulatory approvals necessary. While there is skepticism surrounding the feasibility of this timeline, Alef’s unconventional Model A has certainly stirred up curiosity in the eVTOL industry. Their journey will be one to follow, if only to see whether this unique vision of an eVTOL can truly take flight.

Source: Alef