Zeva takes the flying saucer concept to the next level

An artist’s concept shows Zeva’s Z2 electric air vehicle in level flight. (Zeva illustration)

Eight months ago, Zeva Aero conducted a landmark flight test for an electrically powered flying saucer that would warm the heart of any sci-fi fan. Now the on Tacoma, Wash. based startup is changing the design — and while Zeva’s Z2 will look less like a UFO, it will look more real.

“It’s not just science fiction,” said Stephen Tibbitts, CEO of Zeva.

Tibbitts explains what has changed since January and why, in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the intersection of science and fiction.

The company’s first prototype, known as the Zeva Zero, was developed to enter the GoFly Prize, a $2 million competition for single-seat flying machines.

After Zeva put the Zero through its first untethered, controlled flight test in a meadow south of Seattle, Tibbitts and his team decided to change things up for the Z2. “We’re moving on to what we think will solve some of the Zero’s problems,” Tibbitts said.

Zeva’s goal for the Z2 is basically the same as it was for the Zero: to create a flying vehicle that takes off and lands vertically, but pivots for horizontal forward flight. The range for flying with a single person would be 50 miles, with enough power to reach a top speed of 160 mph.

The streamlined Z2 design still has something of a flying saucer, but it calls for bigger, more efficient propellers mounted on four large motor pods. Zeva also plans to incorporate the latest battery technology. The new design may not meet the GoFly Prize design specs as much, but it will be more stable on the ground for takeoff.

“We haven’t finished the prototype yet,” Tibbitts says. “We are working on it. We have quite a few CAD [computer-aided design] work to do before we start cutting molds. But once we start cutting molds and making composite parts, it should go pretty quickly.”

Zeva aims to have a Z2 prototype ready for testing later this year.

Stephen Tibbitts is the co-founder and CEO of Zeva Aero. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Tibbitts is proud of how far his team has come since the company was founded in 2017. So far, Zeva has received funding from founders, friends and family, plus a crowdfunding campaign with stocks that raised more than $200,000. Tibbitts says the company currently has close to six “quasi-full-time” employees and 25 experts it can turn to for advice.

“The remarkable thing about Zeva is that on a budget of $700,000, we produced a 100% full-flying prototype in four and a half years,” Tibbitts says. Now Zeva is gearing up for what it hopes will be a multimillion-dollar Series A funding round.

Can Zeva keep up with the much larger companies that are also working on electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles or eVTOLs? Companies such as Bell, Joby Aviation and Boeing-backed Wisk Aero? Tibbitts says Zeva can occupy a niche of its own.

“A lot of it has to do with focus,” he says. “We are focused on getting the technology into the hands of people who just want to fly. Other companies focus on urban air mobility. … I happen to believe that eVTOL technology has broad applications far beyond the city.”

Illustrations show Zeva’s eVTOL parked in a driveway. (Zeva illustration)

As Tibbitts sees it, the first applications could be to provide rapid-response air vehicles for first responders and law enforcement officers. He also notes that the US military is looking at eVTOLs for a variety of uses.

“If you look at what the Navy is asking, they’re asking for a small, compact plane that can launch itself,” Tibbitts says. “They want to be able to store some of these in a container ship… and then launch them to go from ship to coast or ship to ship and just deliver goods. Not necessarily dragging people around.”

Once Zeva’s design is thought out, the business plan calls for setting up a pilot production line, most likely in the Puget Sound region. “I would be bold enough to say that it could also be the site for the future Gigafactory – if we follow the Tesla model, in terms of being able to set up a factor to eradicate these things and make a lot of them.” make,” says Tibbits.

Zeva plans an initial price tag of $250,000.

“I think there’s margin for us at that price,” Tibbitts says. “But I would also like to be able to bring it down to a lower cost point – in five, six, seven years – to something that is achievable for the consumer. So you have a choice: you can buy a Lamborghini, or you can buy a Zeva.”

In this artist’s view, a Zeva eVTOL is parked on the side of a building near a SkyDock. (Zeva illustration)

Tibbitts admits that he was inspired by the flying cars of science fiction, going back to the bubble car featured in “The Jetsons” and the magnetic air car that appeared in Dick Tracy’s comic from the 1960s. But he says the real flying machines that will appear in the coming decades will look very different.

“The ultimate goal, I think, for the next 20 years is to combine eVTOL technology with high-speed travel across the country,” Tibbitts says. “Everyone wants a business jet that can land and take off vertically, and there’s actually some air force work going on in that area.”

In February, the Air Force selected 11 companies to proceed with high-speed eVTOL concepts. One such company is Jetoptera, based in Edmonds, Wash. Another company on the list, VerdeGo Aero, was co-founded by Bainbridge Island native Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

Zeva may not have made the Air Force list this time, but Tibbitts clearly has high-speed flight in his sights. “That’s the next big stage — to get to a point where you have a machine that can land and take off pretty much anywhere, but also go over 300 miles per hour and get you to your destination really fast,” he says. he. .

So, if Zeva stays in operation long enough, make a note to watch the sky as the Z10 hurtles past.

Check out the original version of this entry on Cosmic Log for Tibbitts’ top recommendation when it comes to distant science fiction. And stay tuned for future episodes of the Fiction Science podcast via Anchor, Apple, Google, Overcast, Spotify, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Reason.