We’ve all been there. You’re running late for a meeting and come across a line of cars backed up behind a crash on the highway. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of just taking to the air and flying over the traffic jam?
If California-based Alef Aeronautics can deliver on its promises, that dream may become a reality.
The Federal Aviation Administration has granted the company a Special Airworthiness Certificate for its Armada Model Zero flying electric vehicle.
For a $150 fee, you can get on a waiting list for delivery of one of Alef’s estimated $300,000 vehicles. For $1,500 you can be on the priority list.
According to company statements, the vehicle has a driving range of 200 miles and a flight range of 110 miles on a charge. They also have a hydrogen-fueled version for a higher price.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a jet-fueled version, which would probably have a range in the thousands of miles and go 0 to 60 in less than a second.
The Special Airworthiness Certificate, however, doesn’t actually allow the company to produce flying vehicles for commercial sales.
Tom Rullman, owner of GT Aeronautics in Powell, has been pursuing FAA certificates to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles, often called drones. His drones shoot down enemy drones, attack exploding toxic weeds and aid search and rescue efforts.
The Special Airworthiness Certificate, Rullman explained, is for experimenting with one single vehicle. It doesn’t apply to a type of vehicle. Each model Alef builds has to have another certificate.
“Think experimental aircraft. If you build an experimental aircraft in your garage, you gotta get it certified by the FAA. If you build another one, you gotta get that one certified. That's how experimental certificates work,” Rullman said.
You also have to tell the FAA what you plan to do with the aircraft, whether that is personal use, research and development, flight crew training or exhibition.
Six Month Wait
GT Aeronautics is pursuing the certificate for its GT380 Tacamo, developing the drone for a Naval Surface Warfare Center contract. It will fire rockets at enemy targets.
The drone can fly much further and longer than standard quadcopter drones that people buy off the shelf, making it useful for search and rescue missions. It can be fitted with orange pods that can be dropped to stranded hikers, for example, providing them with food, walkie talkies, thermal blankets or other survival needs until they can be rescued.
In the case of GT Aeronautics, the company’s pursuing the certificate for research and development.
Rullman said the company applied for the certification in March and expect to have it sometime this month.
To go beyond research and development into production requires a Type Certification. GT Aeronautics had originally pursued that with its aerial vehicles starting in 2017.
“As far as I know, they [the FAA] have not yet granted a type certification to a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle],” Rullman said.
After much bureaucracy and headaches, the company decided to go with the Special Airworthiness Certificate, which will allow GT to start accruing flight time with the rocket-firing drone. That will help get Type Certification.
“I don’t know why the FAA never asked us to do that before, but you know, that’s the government for you,” Rullman said.
With the Special Airworthiness Certificate, it also will have a Certificate of Authority, which will allow it to fly the drones at the Powell Municipal Airport along with regular manned aircraft.
With a Type Certification, a manufacturer can produce the aircraft and self-certify them as they come off the assembly line.
In the case of GT Aeronautics, the FAA lacks a clear path for UAV certification.
“They’ve changed the game on us two or three times,” Rullman said.
Cowboy State Daily has reached out to Alef for comment about the FAA process or if its vehicles will, like GT Aeronautics, include rocket launchers.
According to company statements, Alef intends to begin production and initiate first deliveries by the fourth quarter of 2025.
Kevin Killough can be reached at Kevin@cowboystatedaily.com.