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Enjoying its world debut this week over at the EAA’s Innovation Center is a thing called Black Fly, which is…oh, we’re tired of figuring out what to call these things. It’s an ultralight (Part 103) polycopter that can be either autonomously or remotely controlled—no, the idea of “flying” a craft that’s being remotely controlled by someone safe on the ground doesn’t appeal much to us, either. But Black Fly, much unlike other futuristic looking craft isn’t flying pie in the sky. It’s been flying for almost a decade now and has amassed a substantial amount of time in the process.
Developed by Canadian Marcus Lang, who has founded the company Opener to support the craft, and Google principle Larry Page is said to be an investor. So there seems to be money behind the project.
Moreover, Opener is doing a lot of things right that lots of other companies are getting wrong. First, they are open eyed about what their craft is. It’s not a revolutionary transportation solution. It’s a fun plaything. And whether or not their development will play out, the company is talking about what they’re doing in exactly the right way. They are trying to learn everything they can about the behavior of Black Fly and all of its failure modes before anyone climbs aboard.
As an ultralight (sub 254 pounds, single seat, and a few other limiting definitions), Black Fly can be piloted by...well, wrong word. A pilot isn’t needed. No license, no training. Nothing. Not that training isn’t recommended. The FAA would love for ultralight pilots to get training. But they don’t mandate it. Opener says that training will be quick and easy not because being a pilot isn’t hard but because being a pilot isn’t required for Black Fly. That’s because the craft will fly itself. And what about failure modes? What will happen if all the power goes out? Will this ultralight polycopter turn into a not-so-light anvil? Well, not really, says the company. They say they’ve looked at failure modes for years and 10,000 miles (I know, strange to measure flight test time in miles, but, whatever. It’s a lot of time, too.) And the conclusion they’ve reached is that Black Fly can overcome any realistically conceivable failure mode. That’s more than you can say about even a twin-engine light GA plane.
As far as performance is concerned, Black Fly, the company says, will do 80 mph, climb at 1,000 fpm, fly for 40 miles and carry very little baggage. If it’ll do all that with a high level of safety, AND you don’t need to be a pilot to fly one? Well, that could be a game changer for us in aviation. We’ll keep a close eye out on this craft.
The company is being a little coy about the price of the thing. The young man answered questions at the exhibit the other day said it would cost about the same as an SUV. “How much does an SUV cost?” he was asked. No answer was forthcoming. Will it cost $50,000? $70,000? $150,000? All we can say is that they won’t be giving them away. But if it does what the company says it’ll do, people will buy it. That we guarantee.