It's been the dream of countless visionaries, finding a way to let people fly as easily as they can drive. And a century after Henry Ford abandoned his own "Flying Flivver" project, an assortment of entrepreneurs are racing to finally make that a reality.
That includes a small company out of Columbus, Ohio that showed off what looks like a drone with a two-person passenger compartment at this week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With prototypes already taking to the air, the Workhorse Group is pushing to get the Federal Aviation Administration certification needed to launch production in less than two years and is already taking deposits.
"Our question is: Why doesn't everyone have a helicopter in their garage?" asked Workhorse CEO and founder Steve Burns, as he showed off the SureFly Octocopter at a stand in the back of Detroit's Cobo Hall convention center. Mainly because it is too expensive and difficult to fly, he added, answering his own question.
The goal of the Octocopter project is to make helicopter-style vertical take-off and landing flight easy, reasonably affordable and safe, even for relatively untrained operators. The company is hoping the FAA eventually will allow the drone-like machine to be operated by someone who can manage a Sport Pilot license that requires a fraction of the training and flight work of a standard pilot's license.
Going beyond earning a federal aircraft "type" certification, said Burns, "We hope to prove this is safer to take to a destination that to drive there."
Unlike a helicopter that requires an extensively trained pilot operating a variety of controls simultaneously, the Surefly is largely computer controlled. About the only thing its operator does is turn a joystick-like control to point where they want to go. A throttle control in the left door adjusts speed. To lift off or land, they simply speed up or slow down.
"If you can fly a drone, you can fly this," said Burns.