After years of effort, Zeva, based in Tacoma, Washington, has executed the first controlled, untethered flight test of its full-scale flying machine – a craft that resembles a flying saucer.
The demonstration took place on January 9 in a pasture in rural Pierce County, not far from Zeva’s HQ. During four separate sorties, the Zero aircraft accumulated more than four minutes of controlled hovering, simulated taxi maneuvers at slow speeds, and limited vertical climb maneuvers.
Zeva’s flying saucer is an electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL, craft powered by four pairs of rotors. It’s designed to take off vertically with a single pilot, then transition to a horizontal orientation to fly at speeds of up to 160 mph with a range of up to 50 miles.
“This is a huge inflection point for Zeva as we join an exclusive set of proven flying eVTOL platforms, and a testament to the hard work and ingenuity of our entire team over the past two and a half years. “, Stephen Tibbitts, CEO of Zeva and Chairman, said today in a press release.
The company traces its origins even further back – to the Boeing-backed $2 million GoFly Prize competition, which began in 2017. Zeva was one of the teams vying for the $1 million grand prize, which is not was not won in 2020.
Despite the setbacks, Tibbitts and his team continued to work on the Zero aircraft. Over the past year, the company has made key hires, completed more than 50 successful tethered flights, showcased Zero at the Dubai Airshow in November, and won a grant from Washington’s Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation.
“The Zeva team did an incredible job with the design and manufacture of this aircraft, which was evident in this exceptionally smooth and successful first flight,” said flight control engineer Gus Meyer, who guided Zero through the test via a remote radio link.
A dummy was placed inside the cockpit to replace a human pilot.
In a phone interview, Tibbitts told GeekWire that the success of this week’s test has caused “tremendous joy” among team members.
“We’ve been trying to take this hill for a long time,” Tibbitts said. “Part of who I’ve been this week is going, ‘Damn, what happens next?’ Specifically, how to take the next hill.
Once Tibbitts and his crewmates finish evaluating the results of the first flight test, they will aim to expand the envelope for further hover testing and transition to transition flight testing as early as this spring.
Zeva is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign being run on the StartEngine platform. Eventually, the company plans to take pre-orders of the Zero for a $5,000 deposit, with a target price of $250,000 or less for early production units.
“Our long-term focus is the consumer, but there are a lot of pieces that need to be put in place before that happens,” Tibbitts said. Getting the flying saucer certified by the Federal Aviation Administration will be a crucial step.
The first customers could well be first responders and rescue workers in areas where travel is particularly difficult. “Where there is no infrastructure, these types of vehicles are perfect,” Tibbitts said.