Nine years after introducing the Switchblade flying motorcycle concept, start-up Samson Motorworks is racing to launch production of the three-wheeled roadable aircraft by the end of next year.
Samson displayed an unfinished prototype at the Airventure fly-in that is set to fly at the end of the year, says chief executive Sam Boulsfield.
The company accelerated the project six months ago as a crop of Silicon Valley-funded rivals entered development with even more ambitious technology goals, such as electric propulsion and autonomous flight controls.
“We started to see that there was a large interest in flying cars developing six months ago. We saw that we really needed to make it,” Boulsfield says. “For a business, there’s a point sometimes where you just got to hit the gas pedal. It just gave us a wake-up call where I know we’re good but we’re going to get left [behind] if we don’t move now.”
The Switchblade is designed with an aft wing that folds forward and under the vehicle for storage. Empennage surfaces also fold into the top of vehicle in driving mode.
As the wings are extended, they also are canted in a dihedral angle. The aft position of the wings raises concern about a nose pitch-over if the vehicle lands on its rear wheels. In computer simulations, Samson believes it has found an answer to that problem.
The Switchblade is equipped with large automotive wheels and brakes, allowing the aircraft to approach the runway on a flat trajectory 15kt above the stall speed. Rather than land slightly above stall speed with a flare, this approach allows the vehicle to stop by using its brakes
“We think this makes it a safer vehicle,” Boulsfield says.
Samson is prepared to support a high rate of production. The company has developed a process to cure carbonfibre resin components within 1h, using a two-stage ultraviolet curing process, he says.
But the company is aware of the credibility problem that any flying car designer faces in a market that has seen dozens of failed attempts.
“It’s been so long that anyone has come up with a viable flying car concept that sometimes it’s easy to lose faith,” Boulsfield says, “and I think we like to restore that faith.”