Oct 6, 2023 - Technology

The "Jetsons" era of personal flight is getting closer

Image of a Jetson ONE personal aircraft zooming over a farm field

The $98,000 Jetson ONE can fly up to 1,500 feet in the air. Photo: Courtesy of Jetson

Personal flying machines are almost here, and anyone with the money and a few hours of training will be able to fly one.

Why it matters: Many people dream of flying, but getting a pilot certificate takes time, studying and dedication — plus small aircraft can be dangerous and expensive to own and operate.

  • With new technologies — some borrowed from electric cars and video games — it'll soon be easier, safer and comparatively affordable for novices to take flight in their own aircraft.

Behold the Jetson ONE — a "jet ski in the sky," as CEO Stéphan D'haene describes it — which is available for $98,000, about the same price as a high-end Mercedes.

  • It's one of several ultralight personal flying machines coming to market in the next year or so, including the $190,000 Helix, unveiled this week from Pivotal (formerly known as Opener) and the Hexa from Lift Aircraft.
  • The planes are envisioned for personal recreation, short-hop travel or "experiential" entertainment excursions.

Driving the news: The Jetson ONE made its inaugural U.S. flight this week at the UP. Summit in Dallas, an invitation-only gathering of entrepreneurs and investors focused on the future of transportation.

  • Headquartered in Italy with plans to move to the U.S., Jetson has raised $15 million from investors, including rapper will.i.am. A second round of financing is expected soon.
  • The company says it has 300 orders and plans to begin deliveries in 2024.

Details: The compact design is inspired by race cars, with a lightweight aluminum space frame and a carbon-Kevlar composite body.

  • It takes off vertically and then tilts forward, flying at a top speed of 63 mph and at an altitude of up to 1,500 feet.
  • It has eight propellers and is powered by eight electric motors and eight swappable battery packs generating a total of 84 kWh of power — about the same as a Tesla. That's good for about 20 minutes of flying time.
  • The propellers on the single-seat fuselage fold in for easy storage, also making it easy to fit in the back of a pickup truck or van.
  • At less than 200 pounds, it qualifies as an "ultralight" aircraft, which has relatively few regulations under the Federal Aviation Administration — users are not required to have a pilot certificate, for example.

Learning to fly a Jetson ONE takes about five hours of training, D'haene tells Axios.

  • The pilot uses intuitive joystick controls to go up or down and to accelerate and steer, while the flight computer handles the complicated stuff — like keeping the aircraft stable.
  • Of note: Redundant motors and propellers mean the plane can keep flying in the event of a failure. Still, it comes with a "ballistic parachute" that automatically deploys in an emergency.

What they're saying: "Our mission at Jetson is to democratize flight and make the skies available to everyone," said D'haene.

Meanwhile, also at the UP.Summit, Opener announced it was rebranding to Pivotal and unveiled its latest aircraft, the Helix, which replaces a pre-production version called BlackFly.

  • The company will begin taking reservations for the tandem-wing Helix in January, with deliveries expected to begin in June 2024.

What's next: Expect these early personal aircraft to continue evolving.

  • "We all want nothing more than to fly longer distances, for a longer time," Pivotal CEO Ken Karklin tells Axios. "That will come as battery technology matures."
Image of the tandem-wing Pivotal Helix, an ultralight aircraft for personal flight
The $190,000 Pivotal Helix, coming in 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Pivotal

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Stéphan D'haene's name and his title, CEO of Jetson, not co-founder.

Go deeper