Switchblade Flying Sports Car Prototype Makes Maiden Flight
Manufacturer Samson Sky began testing the street-legal flying car earlier this year, but until now flights were limited to a few feet above the runway.
Samson Sky’s Switchblade flying sports car comes in for a landing after making its maiden flight.
Somebody page George Jetson—a U.S. company just flew one of the first of the new generation of flying cars.
Samson Sky, maker of the two-seat Switchblade, which it bills as a “flying sports car,” on Thursday announced that a prototype of the drive-and-fly vehicle completed its maiden flight.
The company shared a video of the street-legal aircraft soaring high above the runway for the first time at Grant County International Airport (KMWH) in Lake Moses, Washington, which is no stranger to test flights. Boeing and other major aircraft manufacturers often use it to perform their own testing.
Under cloudy skies and calm winds, Switchblade took off from the runway at Grant County International and ascended to 500 feet, soaring over the airfield and surrounding foothills. It stayed airborne for nearly six minutes before gliding in for a soft landing.
Samson Sky’s Switchblade takes off for its first flight at Grant County International Airport (KMWH) in Lake Moses, Washington.
Judging from the celebrations by Sam Bousfield, Samson Sky founder and CEO and the designer of Switchblade, the ground crew, and test pilot Robert Moehle, the first flight appears to have been a resounding success.
“Today is the culmination of many years of hard work and persistence to make the vision of a flying sports car a reality,” said Bousfield. “Someone asked me how it felt to see the Switchblade fly. I thought about it and realized that this is what it feels like when your dreams come true.”
Added Moehle, who for months has provided input on the Switchblade prototype to Samson Sky’s research and development team: “The Switchblade handled great. I’m excited to be the first to fly it away from the ground.”
Sam Bousfield (left) and Robert Moehle celebrate a successful first test flight.
Moehle received training from Boeing and previously served as test director for its 787. He has flown more than 2,400 hours in 56 aircraft types, including commercial and experimental. These days, Moehle flies a kitplane for work and pleasure—Switchblade will be approved under the same classification, in the experimental category.
The three-wheel flying car has a 575-pound payload and will drive as fast as 125 mph. Its estimated max speed of 165 knots and normal cruise speed of 139 knots put it in the neighborhood of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) passenger air taxi designs such as Archer Aviation’s Midnight, which is expected to cruise at around 130 knots.
With those kinds of land speeds, owners will be able to take Switchblade on the freeway. From there, they can drive to a nearby airport and—with the push of a button—unfold the vehicle’s wings and tail in under three minutes.
A digital rendering shows what Switchblade may look like on the road, with its wings and tail stowed away.
Once converted to flight mode, Switchblade needs 1,100 feet of runway to take off. In the air, it can fly up to 500 sm (434 nm) at an altitude of 13,000 feet before refueling, requiring only 700 feet of runway to land.
Samson Sky expects customers to drive and fly the vehicle in equal measure—and for some not to fly it at all. Accordingly, Switchblade’s hybrid-electric engine runs on unleaded automotive gas rather than 100LL avgas, allowing owners to fuel up at an automotive gas station. And with the vehicle’s wings and tail folded back into its body, it’s only 6 feet wide—small enough to park in a garage.
Safety features include a whole vehicle parachute, disc brakes, optional autopilot, and a Formula 1-like safety shell to protect occupants in the event of a collision. The proprietary Skybrid safety system adds regenerative braking and reverse thrust, which combined act like a drag parachute on a wet runway.
Prior to its first flight, Switchblade completed three short “hops,” hovering just 10 to 15 feet off the ground. The most recent hop in September was its longest to date, with Moehle flying nearly a mile down the runway.
With Switchblade’s first flight in the books, Samson Sky will use what it learns to begin producing more prototypes.
“After 14 years of design and rigorous testing, our first flight is a huge milestone,” said Bousfield. “The Samson team will use flight test data to finalize production engineering and build several production prototypes. This puts us on the path toward producing thousands of Switchblades to meet the large and enthusiastic demand we’re receiving.”
The flying sports car has been racking up reservations, with more than 2,300 across 57 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Thursday’s test sets those reservations in motion—in August, Samson Sky said customers would need to place a $2,000 deposit within 45 days of the first flight announcement. About 100 customers have already skipped the queue and prepurchased Switchblade at its full price: $170,000.
The vehicle is being certified with the FAA as an experimental/amateur-built (E/AB) aircraft—which requires the owner or operator to build at least 51 percent of it—in order to avoid the more rigorous certification path faced by eVTOL air taxis, for example.
However, that means Switchblade will come unassembled. But each purchase includes access to the Samson Builder Assist Program, which can reduce build time to less than a week, Samson Sky claims. Customers will travel to the company’s Builder Assist Center, where technicians will provide training for the owner’s portion of the assembly, preserving the 51 percent rule. Samson staff will then build the rest and can deliver the finished vehicle straight to the owner’s home.
“The Samson Builder Assist Program is included in the price of every Switchblade kit, as the building of this vehicle requires many specialty fixtures and equipment that would make it very difficult for at-home builders,” Bousfield told FLYING. “Samson has developed an automated parts process to allow a kit owner to complete their 51 percent by building parts and minor assembly work, possibly within a one-week time frame.”
On the ground, the vehicle will be certified as a custom motorcycle or kit car, requiring an automobile or motorcycle license to drive it. Owners will need a private pilot certification to take it to the skies.
But Switchblade can be purchased solely as a car—in fact, Samson Sky said it’s seeing an increasing number of nonpilot customers, who plan to learn to fly when they become owners. It can even be used as a flight training vehicle through the company’s flight school program.
The firm is also developing a Switchblade Special edition, as well as a Limited edition that will be individually crafted and personalized for each customer. Future Samson Sky models may include the winterized Snowbird, the rugged Aurora, and the versatile Trek.
Jack Daleo, Staff Writer