Video: SkyDrive’s piloted eVTOL makes its first public flight

Avatar for eVTOLBy eVTOL | August 28, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 2 seconds.

SkyDrive conducted a public flight demonstration of its piloted SD-03 eVTOL on Aug. 25 — the first such demo of a “flying car” in Japan, the company said.

The flight took place at the Toyota Test Field in Toyota City, which at 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres) is one of the largest test fields in Japan and home to the company’s development base. A pilot was at the controls for the approximately four-minute flight, but a computer-assisted control system helped ensure flight stability and safety, while technical staff at the field monitored flight conditions and performance at all times.

SkyDrive announced earlier this year that it had completed an initial phase of crewed flight testing with its eVTOL prototype aircraft between December 2019 and March 2020. Compared to that prototype, the aircraft that flew this week has sleeker fairings in a pearl-white finish, “which was chosen to represent white birds and the floating clouds in the sky of users’ future,” according to a press release.

“We are extremely excited to have achieved Japan’s first-ever manned flight of a flying car in the two years since we founded SkyDrive in 2018 with the goal of commercializing such aircraft,” stated SkyDrive CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa. “We aim to take our social experiment to the next level in 2023 and to that end we will be accelerating our technological development and our business development.”

SkyDrive SD-03 eVTOL in flight
SkyDrive’s SD-03 eVTOL during its public flight demonstration on Aug. 25. SkyDrive Photo

According to chief technology officer Nobuo Kishi, “The manned flight we have achieved this time is the culmination of SkyDrive’s achievements for technical verification. We have been working on the design of electric propulsion systems, flight control systems, aircraft structures, testing, manufacturing, and introducing monitoring equipment for aircraft conditions during flight testing step by step, and with a considerable sense of speed. We will continue to develop technologies and acquire type certification so that safe and secure flying car operation services can be launched in fiscal 2023.”

Capable of fitting within a four-meter (13-foot) square, SkyDrive’s eVTOL has been designed specifically for dense urban environments, where a small footprint and limited downwash will be especially important. The powertrain consists of electric motors that drive four pairs of contra-rotating propellers, each driven by its own motor. SkyDrive said the use of eight motors provides redundancy that should aid in certification.

The company said it plans to continue the aircraft’s flight test program under an expanding range of conditions with the goal of achieving full compliance with the safety provisions of Japan’s Civil Aeronautics Act. Based on the results of SD-03 testing, it aims to obtain approval for flights outside the limits of the Toyota Test Field before the end of this year.

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  1. One more step towards Luc Besson’s Fifth Element where cities are invaded with flying cars. We will need much more discipline.

  2. e-VTOL market is coming with its unique market needs as well.
    For example, fully autonomous flight modes, special take-off/landing site construction requirements to support autonomous take-off/landing within IMC/VMC flight conditions.
    SkyDrive’s concept seems to be a personal transportation vehicle with dual-use (like a car on the ground, VTOL in the air) rather than a flying taxi operating on-call basis.

  3. I agree with a previous comment, this doesn’t look impressive. A lot of people and organisations have done this before. My experience in aircraft design tells me is that this is the wrong approach to personal flight. A single rotor helicopter will outperform a hovering multi-rotor in all flight conditions. Furthermore, from aerodynamic efficiency point of view, nothing can surpass wing-borne flying mode and that’s why even helicopters cannot compete with fixed wing aircraft, the conventional airplanes, as a mode of transportation. A personal aircraft will need to transition to a wing-borne flight mode, but that introduces other problems, the biggest is the disparity in thrust between hovering and cruising. An important parameter for wing-borne flight is lift per drag ratio (L/D); a typical value for cruise L/D is 10, that means the rotor needs to generate a thrust amounting to one tenth of the aircraft weight. This thrust needs to be increased 10 times for VTOL operation, and power rises even more, exponentially. Just tilting the rotors will not do; for efficient VTOL operation, low disk loading is needed, leading invariably to large rotor disk area, and large rotors are very detrimental to efficient cruise operation. This VTOL conundrum is not solved yet, and it is what engineers are battling since the 1950’s. Attempts have been made to solve this conundrum, e.g NASA’s study of telescoping rotor blades from early 1970’s. I think a much better approach is to use the wing to augment hover rotor lift as in the concepts presented here:

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