LIFE

Hydrogen-powered flying machine readies for take off

A transportation company is betting its sleek new hydrogen-powered electric flying vehicles will someday serve as taxis, cargo carriers and ambulances of the sky, but experts say they will have to clear a number of regulatory hurdles before being approved for take off years in the future.

With six rotors on the roof and seats inside for five people, a passenger model of the Skai (pronounced “sky”) unveiled on Wednesday near Los Angeles resembles an oversized drone crossed with a luxury SUV.

Vertical landing

Like a drone, the vehicle from Alaka’i Technologies takes off and lands vertically.

It’s one of many similar electric flying crafts in production, including prototypes from Boeing and Airbus that made successful test flights this year, according to Vertical Flight Society, an industry group.

Most are powered by batteries, which can add a lot of weight. The Skai instead uses very light hydrogen fuel cells to run its rotors, giving it a range of 644 km and the capacity to carry 454 kilograms in people or freight, the company says.

“We just couldn’t get to the point where we could have enough batteries to get to the payload that we knew we needed,” CEO Stephan Hanvey said of the choice to switch to hydrogen power.

It would be flown by an on-board pilot using a pair of joysticks, but the technology exists to eventually fly it remotely and even autonomously, Mr. Hanvey said.

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