The Alef Model A is a $300,000 "low-speed vehicle" with an interesting, futuristic approach to eVTOL flight.
However, while touted as a flying car, the car part of the equation is more like a parking-lot tram at Disneyland or a golf cart.
The Model A would have to pass a ton of crash-test laws and other regulations, so Alef reportedly opted to bypass automotive-grade approvals and limit their creation to 25 mph and operation on "certain streets"—meaning earthbound highways are likely off limits.
However, the Model A does fly, so who needs surface streets?
For the flight aspect of the Model A's operation—well, it's space age and strange. Seating is for one or two passengers, and the cabin is on a gimbal system that rotates 90 degrees to allow the Model A's carbon-fiber, grilled body to deploy its eight vertical-lift fans to get airborne. The flight configuration has been described as almost biplane-like, due to the chassis being somewhat vertical, rather than the lean, mean horizontal aspect of a private jet. Personally, I don't see the biplane reference, as the Model A doesn't exactly evoke images of a Curtis JN-4 Jenny or WWI Spad fighter, but, hey, I think it looks wonderfully alien-esque in flight.
As for how far you'll be able to take your Model A, Alef claims 200 miles per charge if you crawl along the ground, and promises 110 miles per charge when airborne.
The Model A isn't the vehicle for carting two adults, two kiddies, a pup, and a stack of suitcases, but Alef is considering manufacturing a "family version"—four to six seats with no current luggage capacity predicted—ten to 15 years in the future. The Model A is slated for public release in 2025.
As wacky and optimistic as the Model A concept may seem, it ain't no joke.
In fact, the FAA has awarded the flying car a "limited Special Airworthiness Certification," which means it becomes the first vehicle of this nature to receive legal approval to fly from the U.S. government.
"We're excited to receive this certification from the FAA," said Alef CEO Jim Dukhovny, who tends to "rock star" media gatherings wearing sunglasses and striking dramatic poses. "It allows us to move closer to bringing people an environmentally friendly and faster commute, saving individuals and companies hours each week. This is a one small step for planes, one giant step for cars."
Alef claims it has produced two working "demonstrator" cars and has launched scale models for testing since 2018. However, while receiving the FAA's airworthiness certificate is important to the Model A's development and ultimate release to consumers, it is, in fact, more of an approval to fly a prototype. The project still awaits the same challenges other air-taxi companies are experiencing to get design, production, and vehicle-category certifications.
Of course, the tech world is full of marketing hype and the promise of cool—which the Model A certainly possesses in its initial showings. Whether the Model A is viable and safe—or not—may depend on the evolution of the vehicle's aerodynamic design. For example, there isn't currently any type of tail structure to ensure stable flight, and the "boxy" airborne configuration isn't exactly streamlined (drag, anyone?).
And, do you have to make a choice that your flying car is best reserved for flying? With terrestrial mode limited to perhaps tooling slowly around a suburban neighborhood or gated residential community, will Model A drivers be frustrated about, say, not being able to take a freeway to open landscapes for recreational flying?
It may be a wild ride for the Alef Model A, but, wow, you have to applaud the application of thinking differently.