Drone-like vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flying car air taxis have been showing up at CES shows for years—Cadillac even showed one in 2021. But most experts don’t expect the first air taxi to be certified for use until 2024 at the earliest. At CES 2022, French startup MACA announced plans to get its hydrogen fuel-cell-powered electric VTOL “carcopter,” as they call it, off the ground before then. How do they hope to jump the government certification line? By flying low and restricting themselves to the airspace immediately above Formula 1 racetracks.
MACA S11—Born at Airbus
European aircraft giant Airbus has an innovation committee, which selected the S11 concept for further development out of 250 projects presented in the mid 20-teens. Airbus Helicopters R&D then developed the carcopter project for three years, culminating in the flight of a working prototype in 2019. Then in November of 2020, the MACA startup was spun off to commercialize the project, helmed by founders Thierry de Boisvilliers, and Michael Krollak. Both are Airbus Helicopters veterans, and de Boisvilliers is a retired fighter pilot. It was their idea to develop a racing series for their S11 carcopter.
MACA S11 Carcopter Specs and Stats
The racer’s airframe is formed primarily of carbon fiber, flax-fiber linen, and wood composites that help keep the 23-foot-long craft’s total weight under 600 kg (1,322 lb) and are 80 percent recyclable at the end of their useful life. It is held aloft and propelled by three pairs of low-noise, counterrotating propellers. These are shown with three independent blades each, but representatives suggested they may ultimately employ safety rings around the outside to prevent julienning anything they might contact. Each of the six rotors is powered by a 35-kW (47-hp) electric motor with a total output rating of 268 hp. MACA claims a top speed of 155 mph. Co-founder Thierry de Boisvilliers calculates that carrying a 175-pound pilot, the “range” or flying time of the second prototype will approach 35 minutes, but not at top speed. Advanced avionics are claimed to allow pilots to freely fly the S11, but with collision avoidance built in (in aviation circles, MACA stands for mid-air collision avoidance).
The electricity to spin the rotors comes from an onboard fuel cell fed by a 40kg carbon fiber hydrogen tank, which can be refilled in a matter of minutes. It would take a 150-200-kg lithium-ion battery pack to equal the energy storage of this setup, which would then require vastly more time to recharge.
Why Formula Racing?
The regulatory framework for things that fly is a nightmare to navigate. For example, We covered the launch of the Terrafugia Transition roadable airplane at the 2012 New York show, and it’s still not on sale. Commercial drone delivery was approved in 2015, yet UPS Flight Forward and Amazon Prime Air services are still very limited. But by establishing a low flight ceiling for the MACA S11 (10-12 feet) and restricting themselves to the airspace above the world’s private Formula 1 circuits (Monaco may not work), MACA hopes to cut through some red tape. The founders have conceived the S11 with Formula racing in mind, and they’re prepared to engineer racing regulations, driver requirements, and the entire ecosystem such a spec-series feature race would entail. Let’s face it, during periods where a single team dominates the Formula 1 season, and most passes occur in the pits, a feature race of flying VTOL racers could really liven things up.
Would the MACA S11 Have Any Competition?
MACA is happy to launch a series of spec racers with at least five teams competing, but Sydney, Australia-based Alauda Aeronautics is developing an eVTOL Formula racer of its own, called the Airspeeder.
Their eight-rotor craft is designed to resemble a 1960s formula racer, and a remote-controlled prototype of it flew at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2019, and that company’s web site promotes a remote-control one-make racing series staged on virtual tracks above empty land.
Then there’s the Big Drone, a 217-hp manned aerobatic drone with twelve rotors, born out of Drone Prix gaming. Neither of these competitors is claiming a top speed as swift as that of the MACA S11, but racing improves the breed. So let’s get these companies together, put pilots aboard each, and run them around existing tracks near population centers, keeping them below the height of the catch fences.
How Much and How Soon?
MACA estimates the S11’s price at €500,000 ($573K) and had hoped to launch a racing series in 2023, though more recently it’s suggesting 2024 is more likely. Better late than never—Henry Ford was quoted in Forbes Magazine in 1940 saying “mark my words, a combination airplane and motorcar is coming.” Our question regarding the racing series is, if the avionics absolutely prevent wrecks, will fans watch the series?
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