I’ve never piloted a toy helicopter, let alone a real airplane, but I recently got offered the chance of a lifetime: to become one of the first test pilots of a prototype of a top-secret new aircraft called the Kitty Hawk Flyer.
The Flyer is a radical new concept in flight. It is meant for amateurs like me, doesn’t require a license and took me just a few hours of training on a flight simulator to learn to fly it.
The prototype looks and feels a lot like a flying motorcycle. You mount the seat and lean forward, just like you would on a bike. The controls are built into a set of handlebars and work similar to buttons and joysticks on a video game controller. It takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter. But unlike a helicopter, the Flyer is 100% electric and powered by eight rotors.
Oh — and you fly it over water. It has two pontoons at the bottom for takeoff and landing.
Here are some memories of my test flights on the Flyer prototype (and here is a video of me in action). As you can see, I had a blast!
It’s a crisp, sunny day on a lake in Northern California. The Flyer is parked on a floating dock. I hop on and grab the handlebars. I hold down the start button to fire up the eight rotors beneath me, and the Flyer roars to life.
I’m jumping out of my skin and have to remind myself to breathe. With a smooth movement of my thumb on the throttle — a tiny knob at the left tip of the control bar — I rise straight up into the air and leave gravity behind.
“Oh my God!” I shout. “This is really happening!”
I use my right thumb to gently nudge the “pitch” knob back. The Flyer responds gracefully and floats backward. I ease up on the controls and hover ten feet above the water like a hummingbird.
My left index finger slides another knob — called a “yaw” — and the Flyer stays stationary on its axis while spinning around 180 degrees. The flyer is still perfectly balanced.
My eyes water — I’ve forgotten to blink.
I feel like the Flyer and I are one. I nudge the pitch knob forward and rocket across the lake.
I feel light and ecstatic and utterly free. This is just like my flying dreams!
Speeding above the lake at up to 25 miles per hour, I thumb the controls left and right, rocking the Flyer side-to-side, drawing a “U” in the air. It’s like snowboarding in a gully, coming up high and weightless on the apex of a ridge.
Next, I bank a wide, cushy turn, pushing against air. This feels just like kitesurfing when you hit a top-turn on a big, blue wave.
Landing is a breeze. I just gently ease down the throttle and softly drift to touch down on the dock.
My whole body tingles.
There’s only one thought in my mind: When can I do it again?
The Flyer will be available by the end of the year. It will have a very different design from the working prototype, but I’m betting the experience will be just as amazing.
To learn more about the Flyer, you can check out the Kitty Hawk website: www.kittyhawk.aero.