> Frequently Asked Questions
To find the answers to your questions, please see the information below.
How much do they cost?
VFR Switchblade Kit, engine, transmission, avionics and interiors package – estimated price: $120,000 USD.
IFR Switchblade Kit, complete with engine, transmission, avionics and interiors package – estimated price: $136,000 USD.
Samson Builder Assist Program – estimated price: $20,000 USD, in addition to cost of VFR or IFR package. At the Builder Assist Center we expect assembly of your Switchblade to take as little as three weeks to complete.
How do I purchase one?
At this time, you may sign up for an early delivery position. Click here to reserve your Switchblade.
When do you expect to fly?
We are now only months away from first flight.
When do you think kit production / manufacturing will begin?
We expect to have the Samson Builder Assist assembly line ready about 12 months from first flight.
What about insurance?
Negotiations are currently underway with insurers who can provide both ground and air insurance. While there is currently no flying car insurance program, initially Switchblade drivers will need two policies: one for the air and a separate one for the ground. Due to the training included with our vehicles, and the safety features we are providing, we believe we will be able to provide multiple insurance options. We will have an insurance liaison at Samson who will assist purchasers with insurance matters.
How will you register it?
In the air, the Switchblade will be registered as an Experimental Homebuilt aircraft. On the ground, it will be registered as a custom motorcycle or kit car, depending on where you live.
Interesting fact: For the last 7 years, in the US, more kit aircraft were built and licensed than Certified (fully built) aircraft.
Where do the license plate and the N number go?
The small numbers required for Experimental Aircraft can be located on the side of the boom, which will be tucked out of sight on the ground. The motorcycle license plate will be mounted on the back end of the tail boom.
LEARNING TO FLY
If I am not a pilot, can I still buy a Switchblade?
Yes, you may purchase a Switchblade, and can drive it anywhere you like. You may also use it for your flight training vehicle, saving a considerable amount of money while doing so. Learning to fly is part of the lifestyle of a Switchblade owner. I think you will find that pilots are a very upbeat and ethical group, with a close sense of friendship for other pilots. It is a great way to meet friends and spend quality time.
What license(s) will be required?
Driving on the ground will require a motorcycle driver’s license, a driver’s license, or a driver’s license with a motorcycle addition depending on what state and country you live in. Click here for access to USA state-by-state regulations. To fly the Switchblade, you will need a Private Pilot Certificate. If you use your Switchblade for your training vehicle, the cost for flight training will be nearly cut in half. It can be done at your local flight school with their aircraft and the total cost will depend on how fast you learn and how intensively you train. When training in their own plane, a Private Pilot’s Certificate can be attained for a total cost of between $7,000 and $8,500 USD. If leasing a plane, the cost could be $11,000-$13,000.
How do I become a pilot?
You can become a Private Pilot if you are at least 17 years old and you read, speak, write and understand the English language. Training for a Private Pilot License has two parts: 1) Ground School learning the theory and rules of flying, which can be done through an online course or at a flight school; 2) Flight instruction with a Certified Flight Instructor, which involves a minimum of 40 hours of actual flight time.
How do I learn to fly a Switchblade?
Regional training will be available via existing flying clubs and training centers that may also provide sales. For existing pilots, 5-6 hours of crossover flight training is included with a Switchblade purchase, enabling pilots to become familiar with the equipment and handling of their new Switchblade. This kind of training typically reduces insurance premiums.
Can you have dual controls?
Dual controls will be an extra option and we expect them to be widely used for pilot training. Additionally, we are selling internationally, so the Switchblade will be available in left or right hand drive. The Switchblade can be purchased with dual controls, or a second set of controls can be purchased later or perhaps leased for a reasonable price.
Can the wings retract while in flight?
Two features act independently to prevent a wing retract while flying. The first is that the air pressure pushes back on the wings, forcing the wings to remain extended. Secondly, an automatic locking mechanism keeps the wing-swing positively locked in the open position when in flight.
Is it possible to forget one aspect of changing from car to aircraft and take off unprepared for flight?
We are designing the system so that it will be impossible to engage the ducted fan unless the vehicle is in flight mode, (wings and vertical stabilizers deployed), as well as the electrical/electronic aspects of the change (instruments, engine computer). Of course, there remains the visual inspection of readiness, which would always be done as part of a pre-flight.
Would a minor collision on the ground render the vehicle non-airworthy?
The main wings are contained within the belly of the vehicle to keep them out of harm’s way while on the ground. An aluminum keel protects the wings from damage if the vehicle high-centers or strikes bottom in some manner. Similarly, the tail is retracted in ground mode, keeping it from harm in a minor rear collision. High-speed impact can render any vehicle non-useable. If in doubt, consult an aircraft mechanic or a Samson dealer.
How safe is the vehicle in a major accident?
Formula 1 racing cars are designed to keep a driver safe during impacts, by creating an inner safety cell surrounded by an expendable outer structure. That same technology is being used by Samson Motors and DAR Corporation to create a safety shell around the occupants to protect them from front and rear collisions. Side collision protection is provided to produce perhaps one of the safest three-wheeled vehicles ever manufactured.
Won’t this flip over in a hard turn?
The proper design of a three-wheeled vehicle includes a workout for overturning. Simply put, if you have significant weight high off the ground in a vehicle with closely spaced wheels, overturning is almost assured. The Switchblade is designed with wide wheel placement and a low center of gravity, so that the wheels will lose traction in most circumstances, producing a spin or ‘drift’, before the vehicle would overturn. Cornering has been tested to be similar to a typical automobile, with excellent braking to assist in overall control.
How do you see behind you?
Motorcycle laws require rear view mirrors. We are working with the US DOT (Department of Transportation) to be able to substitute a rear view camera/dash monitor that would serve the same function with less drag. Final versions may have aerodynamic mirrors, similar to automobiles.
How do you handle the change of lighting required? (navigation lights vs. car lights)
When the vehicle is converted from ground mode to air mode, and the wings are swung out, the wing tip navigation / strobe lights become exposed. There is a switch on the overhead console to turn them on and make them active. For landing purposes, the two outside headlights are aimed slightly downward to act as landing lights in night operation.
Does the Switchblade have windshield wipers?
Yes, the vehicle will have a safety glass windshield and windshield wiper with spray windshield cleaner, like an automobile.
What keeps the wings retracted in hard cornering?
The wing actuator is connected to the wing at all times, and in ground mode, is sufficient to prevent the wings from swinging out. Additionally, while driving, the wings will be safely stowed beneath clamshell doors in the belly of the vehicle.
What happens if the engine quits or you run out of gas while flying?
The glide ratio of 8:1 allows an element of control for emergency landings, while, as standard equipment, a ballistic chute recovery system provides an escape route found only on a few aircraft.
Is a parachute landing survivable?
Statistics show overwhelming evidence of survivability for those who deploy their Ballistic Recovery System (BRS) at a suitable altitude. Additionally, our design includes a nose-first landing attitude with rotation, so that much of the impact energy can be absorbed from the rotation. Having suspension may also provide further cushioning to many landing scenarios.
How do you extend the wings?
The wings are extended automatically when you transform from ground to air mode. To do this, you must first stop the engine, put the parking brake on, then depress the gas pedal fully and push the flight mode button. A solenoid connects the depressed gas pedal to a mechanical link to the left rudder pedal. These two pedals now function as fly-by-wire rudder pedals. Throttle control is shifted to a hand throttle between the seats.
How do you retract the wings?
To convert the vehicle into driving mode, one must find a safe place to swing the wings closed, then stop the motor and engage the parking brake. You then press the right rudder pedal to the floor, and push the drive mode button. The wings unlock and the actuator automatically pulls the wings closed inside clamshell doors, into the belly of the vehicle.
How fast can the Switchblade go?
In driving mode, estimated over 110 mph / 177 kph. In flying mode, estimated speed is up to 200 mph / 322 kph.
What instrumentation will be provided?
While subject to revision, we are planning to have a digital dash display for driving mode, that will provide standard automotive gauges. For flight, this digital dash, which we call the Eyes Forward Display, will switch to show the most commonly used flight instruments in an easy to read format. Additional and more technical flight instruments, radios, and GPS moving map are located in the center console of the dash. CLICK HERE for a detailed listing of the avionics (flight instruments) provided.
What performance can be expected of the vehicle?
See Vehicle Preliminary Specifications under the Vehicles pull-down tab for update vehicle specifications. The Switchblade has a power-to-weight ratio equivalent to that of a 2017 Corvette, so ground performance should be excellent. Air speeds up to 200 mph are anticipated, which will be verified by actual flight of our prototype.
What will takeoff be like?
Takeoff roll is approximately 1,100 feet. Once ground speed approaches 80 mph, the vehicle will begin to lift off by itself. This is similar to a B-52 bomber, which does not rotate on take-off. A slight pull-back on the wheel brings the vehicle upwards, followed by a climb of approximately 1,300 feet per minute.
How do you land the Switchblade?
The Switchblade will land much like a high-performance prop plane or very light jet, like the Cirrus Vision Jet. You set the approach and just fly it on the runway, with no need to flare. This is much safer because you don’t have to get below the speeds at which a plane is no longer capable of flight (stall speed), which is required for landing most other small aircraft.
What fuel is used?
Unleaded or premium automotive gasoline will be used. The Switchblade will not burn leaded aviation fuel, which is still used by most aircraft. This makes it more environmentally friendly and is part of what qualifies it as a Green vehicle. Additionally, auto gas is considerably less costly than aviation gas. In a Switchblade, you will have the convenience of fueling your vehicle at any gas station, as opposed to only being able to fuel at the airport.
How do you steer the Switchblade? (Are the controls different for driving and flying?)
We have a control wheel (car style), which you steer with while driving. When flying, the control wheel operates to control both ailerons and elevators, just like a typical aircraft. However, it is also always connected to the front wheel for steering. The reason is that when landing, you are flying right up to the point when the wheels touch the ground, and then you are driving. The change is instantaneous, and we felt that there should be only one control for both so that there is no change in how the pilot controls the vehicle from one mode to the other.
How does the engine shift from driving mode to flying mode?
On the ground, the engine is connected to a 2:1 gear reduction that directs power to the ground transmission for wheels, with the prop disengaged. With the vehicle stopped, and brake on, a mode switch button is pushed, which automatically connects the propeller to the 2:1 gear reduction, and the wheels are automatically disconnected after take-off.
How are the tail controls handled?
Pushing or pulling on the control wheel directs the elevators (which pitch the nose up and down). Push rods are used to connect the control wheel to the elevators. The rudders (which point the nose left or right) are controlled by the two rudder pedals on the floor. The rudder system is a robust fly-by-wire system, with multiple redundancy.
How do the gas, brake and rudder pedals work?
Driving Mode: the gas pedal (right) and brake pedal (center) work just like a typical car. The gas pedal is throttle-by-wire, as are many automobiles.
Flight Mode: the gas pedal (right) becomes the right rudder pedal. This pedal joined with the third pedal (far left) to function as our fly-by-wire rudder system, typically only found in high-end business jets.
The wings look small – what is the wing loading?
The Switchblade body is much wider that most comparable aircraft, so relative to the body, the wings look very small. Our wing loading is higher than that of a trainer but lower than a typical high-performance aircraft:
Piper Cherokee 180: 15 lb / sf Switchblade: 26 lb / sf Lancair: 33 lb / sf
DESIGN & TESTING
What engineering and design have been done?
Full aerodynamic engineering and design has been done. With today’s advanced aeronautical engineering technology, aircraft companies are able to get within 10% of ‘actual’. Interior design included ergonomic studies. Structural design was completed for the wings, tail and fuselage. The wing swing mechanism was designed and validated by testing on a jig as well as on the pre-production prototype.
What testing has been done?
¼ scale radio-control testing; wind tunnel testing at the University of Washington; acceleration and road handling tests; slalom testing using Road & Track’s slalom parameters; engine road testing and dynamometer (dyno) testing; drop testing of the front suspension; and testing different flight scenarios in the engineering based flight simulator, X-Plane.
What’s the importance of wind tunnel testing?
To further validate the aero engineering, we did wind tunnel testing – at the University of Washington in Seattle. Wind tunnel testing has been used for years by Boeing, Airbus, Cessna and others. When you want to be absolutely certain of your flight qualities before you fly, those same larger companies will do what we did and spend time in the wind tunnel with an exact scaled replica of the aircraft.
The wind tunnel provides real world data, as it is actual flying of the vehicle in the controlled environment of the wind tunnel. The results of wind tunnel testing can get you within 3% of ‘actual’. What this means is, after wind tunnel testing we know within 3%, exactly how the Switchblade will fly. The last 3% is flushed out and handled during flight testing.
The true value of wind tunnel testing is gaining a greater understanding of the flight dynamics that your aircraft has, which was worth every penny of the $800+ per hour it cost us to do this testing. We used the highly respected Kirsten Wind Tunnel at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Our testing gave us the certainty we needed to go forward into flying prototype construction for the Switchblade.
What about testing with the Ground Test Vehicle (GTV)?
Our Ground Test Vehicle is a three wheel, steel tube frame vehicle, built to fully test out ground handling and performance before committing the millions of dollars needed to engineer, build and assemble the carbon fiber flying prototype. It was made with the same dimensions as the flying prototype – wheelbase, weight, center of gravity, length and width, etc.
The GTV out performed a Jaguar XK8 in acceleration testing. In slalom testing – with 8 cones 100 ft apart – we outperformed everything in our wheelbase, in Road & Track’s historical database.
What engine testing has been done?
The V4 engine has been tested repeatedly in both dynamometer settings, and in real life settings on the road. This engine powers the world’s fastest production motorcycle. For aircraft use, we have tested the engine specifically for the power demands that an aircraft requires. During several days of dyno testing we validated the engine with the turbo charger modifications for aircraft use. We met our goals of dropping maximum rpm down to 5450, while increasing power to 190 hp.
How did you use the flight simulator X-Plane?
X-Plane is an engineering based flight simulator, widely used in aircraft development and also in flight training. When you create an aircraft in the computer for the X-Plane simulator, it has to match the exact shape and specifications that it would be built to in the real world.
As a result, if an aircraft won’t fly in real life, it won’t fly in X-Plane. The opposite is also true, as we discovered when we successfully flew the Switchblade for hundreds of hours, in different situations and settings. This validated what we had learned in both aeronautical engineering and in the wind tunnel. Short field take offs and landings, steep banking, time to cruising altitude, cross wind landings, etc. were tested over and over again.
Has the Switchblade flown?
The full-scale pre-production prototype is almost completed and then we will do flight testing. It has flown in the Aero Engineers’ computer programs, which gets within 10% of ‘actual’. The wind tunnel testing gives real world data, getting us within 3% of ‘actual’. We’ve validated this by flying it in the engineering based flight simulator, X-Plane. All of this has provided a great deal of confidence in the design. We expect to do only minor changes after flight testing.
EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT & BUILDING
What is the build time?
The build time for the Switchblade Kit is approximately 2,000 hours for at-home builders.
At the Samson Builder Assist Center, we estimate you should be able to complete your Switchblade in as little as 3 weeks full time (6 days a week), with our pro build team assisting you at each assembly station on the line. All that would remain would be the paint job or vinyl wrap.
How will the Samson Builder Assist Center be set up?
Your Switchblade Kit will be waiting for you at the Center, with major components already pre-assembled. You will go through the 10+ assembly line stations, working on your Switchblade, with the assistance of our build staff each step of the way. We estimate that people will be able to complete their Switchblade in as little as 3 weeks, full time. The Builder Assist Program will provide quality control of a high level. Building your Switchblade on your own will involve approximately 2,000 man-hours.
If I build my Switchblade at your Builder Assist Center, will it qualify for the FAA’s 51% rule?
Yes, it will. While our pro team will be working with you and directing you, you will be either assisting or doing the work, which will be documented and will fully qualify you as builder of record.
When the build is finished at the Builder Assist Center, how will the registration occur?
The flight portion is the same as any other Experimental Aircraft, with a Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) inspecting the plane and checking the build log to verify that the owner participated. Once that sign-off has been done, the owner is able to fly off the up to 40 (can be less) preliminary flight hours in the vicinity of the home airport, as required by the FAA before doing cross country or passenger-carrying flight. An owner can also hire a Samson Test Pilot to fly off the initial 40 hours, so that the owner can then fly it home. If the owner is not yet a pilot, he can still drive it home or ship it, and receive flight training in his Switchblade once there.
The ground portion of registration is handled by obtaining a temporary registration (which we would assist you to get), at a local DMV. That would allow you to drive the vehicle home, and conduct the 40-hour fly-off at that location, if that is more convenient. Alternately, one can arrange for shipping the vehicle to your home, and go through the registration process in your home city. It costs less than $1,000 to ship a vehicle to almost anywhere in the US. Several options exist for shipping overseas.
Where can you fly the Switchblade?
Basically you can fly it the same places you can fly any other aircraft. We use the extensive airport system for take off and landing. In the US, most people live within 15 miles of a small or regional airport.
Can I take off from a neighborhood street, freeway or parking lot?
FAA rules prohibit any vehicle from taking off from private or public streets for non-emergency purposes.
Can I take off from my own land?
If you own sufficient land to construct a private runway, theoretically you could, with certain restrictions. For instance, per the current US regulations, you would need to fly at least 500 feet above any neighboring structure.
How high can the Switchblade fly?
The vehicle’s estimated operation ceiling is 13,000 feet above sea level. This may increase after flight test results are in.
Is the Switchblade street legal?
Absolutely. Because it is a 3-wheel vehicle, it will be licensed as a motorcycle or autocycle in most US states. Regulations vary from country to country, so it is wise to check your country’s regulations before purchasing. Samson is researching the regulations for many countries and will post this information on our website in the future.
Can I drive this on the highway?
This is designed as a flying sports car, so yes – you can drive it on roadways with fast speed limits. Our ground test vehicle has exceeded 100 mph / 161 kph in testing, which should be ample speed for even the Autobahn.
Can the Switchblade be operated in and out of a controlled airport?
Our standard instrument panel will allow flight to and from controlled airports. The whole idea behind the Switchblade is to expand your horizons and capabilities.
Can I drive the Switchblade in a carpool lane?
Most states in the U.S. have regulations which allow motorcycles such as the Switchblade to travel in the carpool lane without stickers. Check your local regulations, but in most cases it should be allowed. In other countries, local regulations should be checked.
If I own a Switchblade, will I have to pay toll road fees?
Most toll roads collect toll from all vehicles. With the Switchblade, you could fly past them in many cases.
Are the controls different for flying vs. driving?
We plan to provide both ‘pilot’ and ‘driver’ with comfortable and familiar controls. A control wheel is provided that functions like an aircraft ‘yoke’ in the air and operates like a steering wheel on the ground.
How is braking accomplished?
The front wheel is steered at all times, so the differential braking common in most light aircraft is not utilized. High performance racing brakes at all wheels provide superior stopping power, operated by a traditional automotive-style brake pedal.
Does the Switchblade have a transmission?
Yes, a continuously variable transmission with reverse is planned, providing exceptional power control.
What engine is being used?
Since this vehicle has to meet smog requirements on the ground, using a strictly aircraft engine burning leaded fuel was out of the question. The Rotax engines available were not powerful enough for our use. After searching for several years, we found, modified, and tested a 1.6L V4 engine that is liquid-cooled, meets smog, was stronger than we needed it to be, and was light enough to work in the Switchblade. We reduced the rpm limit by 30%, so that it has a long life as an aircraft engine as well as for the ground.
The engine is badged as a Samson engine, and has the following redundant (dual) systems: ignition, fuel pumps, fuel injection systems, air intakes, and engine computers. Even with all of the modifications, it is half the cost of a comparable aircraft engine.
Why not use an aviation engine?
As a dual-purpose vehicle, the engine will be required to have emission controls that aircraft engines do not provide. Additionally, the uniquely different demands of flying and driving make it desirable to have an engine that can perform well in both modes.
How will the engine be maintained?
The Switchblade engine will have a maintenance schedule as part of the Owners Manual. The engine is similar to the construction of a GM LS1 engine, which is very common. We will be training and certifying mechanics at the Samson Builder Assist Centers so that we increase the numbers of mechanics trained specifically for this engine.
We also plan on providing an engine swap program, where a new engine will be shipped out to you, while you ship your old engine back to the factory, where major overhauls are more easily done. This should not be for many years, as our Time Between Overhauls (TBO) is estimated to be 1,500 hours or more of use.
Won’t there be traffic jams in the sky?
That is very unlikely, for 5 reasons:
- Planes can fly at various altitudes and most smaller ones fly up to 13,000 ft, allowing a great deal of space between any planes that are in the air at the same time.
- As trained pilots, everyone will be following the established safety rules and protocol.
- In the US, there are over 1,000 times more cars on the road than aircraft in the sky. Per the US Department of Transportation statistics for 2014, there were over 260 million registered passenger vehicles but only 211,000 registered aircraft (204,400+ were active General Aviation (GA) aircraft and 6,600+ were commercial airliners).
- Aircraft use the extensive system of airports, with smaller planes using primarily small or regional airports where the large commercial airliners don’t fly. There are also countless grass strips and private runways.
- The skies are wide open. At any given time, around the entire world, there are only 10,000-16,000 commercial aircraft in the air at the same time.
What about Google, Uber, Airbus and their autonomous flying car concepts?
While it’s encouraging that these global companies are getting involved in the flying car arena, we believe it is going to be many years before any of these would become a reality.
- They don’t have the battery technology needed to efficiently do what they’re planning.
- There’s no infrastructure for what is being proposed.
- Today’s regulations are nowhere near allowing this type of flight. – In short, be prepared to wait for it!
Will you have an LSA Switchblade in the future?
It may be possible but we won’t know until after extensive flight tests. Currently, the Switchblade is too fast and too heavy to qualify for Light Sport Aircraft standards.
Any plans for a Certified Switchblade?
Yes, Samson plans to manufacture a Certified Switchblade in the future. Since the Switchblade Kit is designed almost entirely to Part 23 Standards (what the FAA requires for Certified aircraft), the process of going to Certified should be smooth and efficient.
What are the Limited Edition Switchblades?
Samson Motors will be offering 200 Limited Edition vehicles – fully built, with a unique custom designed interior for each client, and exterior features found only on these exclusive vehicles. This offering was announced in Robb Report, in an online article – interview with Switchblade inventor Sam Bousfield – Sept. 22, 2017. The Switchblade was chosen by Robb Report Editors to be in the coveted Ultimate Gift Guide, December Issue.
How will these vehicles be priced?
The Limited Edition vehicles start at $500,000.
If I’m not a pilot but want to learn?
Part of this LE ownership experience can include private flight training for you and your flying companion / co-pilot, if desired.
When may I reserve one?
We have not yet officially unveiled these vehicles, but you may express your interest and request to be notified prior to the public announcement. Visit our Limited Editions page to sign up.