The team behind ASKA has set itself a monumental aeronautical engineering challenge.
Their craft — which has yet to be built — is 100% electric. When it's not flying, the vehicle can fold up and motor down the highway like a car. Guy Kaplinsky, CEO of the company behind the futuristic flying car, said the vehicle will sell for approximately $800,000, but the company says most customers will probably lease the vehicle for a set number of hours per month. Interesting Engineering caught up with Kaplinsky at CES 2022 to learn more about his company and dig into the challenges of building such a novel and unusual vehicle.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Interesting Engineering: How does designing a vertical takeoff plane differ from designing a traditional aircraft? How are you accounting for various aerodynamic forces produced by the many rotors and the wings?
Guy Kaplinsky: So those are pretty big challenges. The main difference between the design of a traditional aircraft and the design of a vertical takeoff aircraft is stress analysis. For ASKA, the [arms connecting the rotor blades to the aircraft] have to be really rigid and straight because if the angle of the rotors changes, then you lose the thrust.
IE: ASKA’s wings look different from a typical plane wing. Can you explain what’s going on here?
GK: The design of the wing is very different from a conventional wing. Conventional wings don't have a lot of systems inside. A wing is a wing. Here, it is not just a wing. It's also a place to hold the batteries, radiators, and other systems. Having many more elements in the wing makes it structurally very, very challenging.
IE: Why are you putting so much in the wing and not in the body of the aircraft?
GK: We put them in both, but if you have systems close to rotors, you're reducing the need for cooling. This whole aircraft is about two things: weight and thermal radiation. We have to get rid of heat in the most efficient way possible. If you build a system really far away from the rotors, you need a bigger cooling system. I cannot say it is wrong to put systems in the fuselage — it's all about optimization. The designer and stress analysis side had to be willing to go to the next level [of difficulty] and put systems in the wing, which is not conventional. They are still aerodynamic. We want lift, the same as an aircraft. But we also have to build like a drone.
IE: Is that because you need the efficiency of winged aircraft?
GK: Our target is mass production for consumers and airlines, so safety is number one. To achieve that level of safety, you have to have a large wing because if you don't and something goes wrong, you fall from the sky.
IE: What sort of failures can ASKA safely tolerate?
GK: If you lose one rotor, you’re still okay. If you lose two, then you have to stop all of them and glide. It actually gives you much more redundancy than a Cessna. There is also a ballistic parachute for emergencies.
IE: How does ASKA compare to other types of small aircraft?
GK: The vehicle takes all the advantages of a plane, a drone, and a helicopter. That makes the engineering very complicated.
IE: When will you build the first complete prototype?
GK: We are [building it] right now, and it will fly this year.