It's George Jetson's world, and we are now living in it. Based on fan lore, the Hanna Barbara cartoon character was born last week on July 31, 2022. With that in mind, we shouldn't be that far off from flying cars.
One company looking to develop such a feat just cleared a huge hurdle, getting clearance from the FAA to begin flight testing. Oregon-based startup Samson Sky first brought its Switchblade prototype to EAA AirVenture in 2019. Fast forward three years into the future, and after an inspection by an FAA agent, the Samson Switchblade flying car has now completed high-speed taxi testing and is ready to take flight.
GlobalAir.com spoke with Sam Bousfield, inventor of the Switchblade and CEO of Samson Sky to get a progress report and to learn more about how the project has made it this far. Bousfield said his initial approach was, rather than look at how to make a car fly, to create a high-performance vehicle that could handle both modes, drive and flight, landing on a prototype that's technically a motorized trike.
"Doggone if we hadn't nailed it, at least on the ground so far," Bousfield said this week. The Samson Switchblade is powered by a 3-cylinder, liquid-cooled, turbo-charged engine capable of producing 204 horsepower. On the ground, it has surpassed 100 mph in an eight-cone slalom going uphill and downhill. The goal is to reach a top airspeed of 200 mph with a 160-mph cruise at a range of 500 miles in the air or 700 miles on the ground. Since the aircraft is not pressurized, its ceiling will be under 13,000 feet. However, Bousfield believes it can climb higher and that a pilot will be able to tackle the airspace over the Rockies with a bottle of oxygen in tow.
Although the engine prefers premium, you can fill it up on regular unleaded at your local gas station. Classifying the aircraft as experimental provides the option to explore alternative fuel sources. "We wanted the biggest box to play in as a business," Bousfield explained. "Just your typical aircraft engine just wouldn't have fit the bill."
The 6-foot-wide body makes the wings look small. However, the wingspan of the Samson Switchblade is 26' 9" with a wing load of 27 lbs. per square foot. Early wind tunnel testing pointed out problems with the initial tail being too light. It is now configured with a twin-vertical tail with a T on top. "It's shaped like the space shuttle and behaves like it," Bousfield said. The avionics can be equipped through a 10" Dynon Skyview or Garmin G3X. Airframe protection for lightning is not provided, but a lightning strike finder can be added. Bousfield said a number of customers are commercial pilots who wanted IFR capability, which is an option on the Switchblade.
Coming out of taxi testing, the Samson team has made tweaks to the propeller positioning and the cooling system. "We have not found a fault or issue that would prevent us from advancing to flight testing," states a newsletter sent out Friday by the company. The order list is approaching 2,000 customers, according to Bousfield, including more than 250 people signing on this week, as the FAA approval gained media attention. "Sales is not the problem," Bousfield said, noting that around one-fifth of those vowing to buy the Switchblade are not yet pilots. "To us, that means we need training."
He expects the plane to go airborne this month. In the next year of flight testing, additional prototypes will be built and then the company will focus on production engineering, and how to scale manufacturing to meet consumer demand. That includes working to get carbon parts cheaper and faster. "It's quite a lot to set up; it's not an overnight thing," Bousfield said. The target price is $170,000 with the IFR option costing $195,000. Customizable limited-edition models start at $770,000. All the kit options include a build assist from Samson. The target for production is to have the flying cars delivered to customers in two years. "We have such a huge market and guys have been waiting," Bousfield said, saying that he expects some churn on the waiting list. "It looks like we have so many more to tap into because we haven't even promoted." It looks like there are a lot of people who are ready to join George Jetson and Samson might be the company that helps get their cars into the sky.