Orlando, Florida, is an amusement park goer’s dream. But nestled between two of the city’s top destinations is a ride like no other.
Sandwiched by Universal Studios and SeaWorld, the newly launched Drone Ride is operated by Orlando-based flying sports car manufacturer Land Rotor. The attraction features a prototype of the company’s advanced air mobility (AAM) Sportster—unveiled in full last week—tethered to the ground inside a building. But the vehicle won’t be boxed in for long.
On Monday, Land Rotor and Aeroauto, a Palm Beach, Florida-based electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft dealership, signed an exclusive distribution agreement to deliver up to 10,000 Sportsters globally by 2030. At around $70,000 per unit, the deal could be worth up to $700 million.
At the moment, no money is changing hands. But Land Rotor has made a firm commitment to deliver 10,000 Sportsters to Aeroauto through 2030.
“Those are aggressive figures,” Thomas-John Veilleux, founder and CEO of Land Rotor, told FLYING. “But we think they’re very tangible based on market conditions and consumer interest in the price point that we’re aiming at.”
Veilleux, an aviator for more than 30 years who got his start flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, founded a pair of drone firms, Maine UAV and FireDroneUSA, before deciding to put down roots into the AAM space with Land Rotor.
Low and Slow
Land Rotor’s business model is one of the most intriguing in the entire AAM space.
At the moment, it’s twofold. The company is working toward mass producing sports recreation vehicles for the consumer market, both for offroad and “street legal” use cases. Before that, though, it will focus on a surprising core market: amusement parks.
While eVTOL air taxi operators such as Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are eyeing urban air mobility routes in cities like New York and Chicago by 2025, Land Rotor is taking a more deliberate approach—one Veilleux characterizes as “low and slow.”
“The Ford Model A wasn’t a Ferrari,” he said. “Those early cars were low and slow and underpowered. And that was never Henry Ford’s motivation, to produce a race car early on. He saw the need to sell consumers on something that was low and slow and affordable.”
Veilleux and his team came up with the Drone Ride concept shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The idea was to take the risk out of product development. Veilleux said Land Rotor could have been selling prototypes, but it opted not to because of safety concerns and a lack of policy and education around AAM.
“We really need that to be safe,” he said. “That comes before profit.”
To ensure that’s the case, Land Rotor tethered its prototype to the floor of an FAA-approved building and began offering rides to thrill-seeking customers. The controlled environment not only helps the company skirt testing requirements but allows it to use riders as pseudo-test pilots, collecting data on each simulated jaunt to assess the health of the Sportster’s components.
With an audience already in place at these amusement park venues, Land Rotor is able to install its tech and immediately get eyes on it.
“It gives us the ability to test the equipment and rack up lots and lots of hours as a laboratory of sorts indoors,” said Veilleux. “So we can track flight hours and log various components for time between overhaul and maintenance schedules.”
The unique strategy won’t be limited to Orlando. The company plans to install more rides in New York City, Las Vegas, and Houston, as well as outside the U.S. in Mexico, Canada, the U.K., and several markets in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific Region.
The attractions will provide some revenue. But Veilleux said the real benefits have been the ability to test components and popularize the experience the vehicle can provide. To that last point, he compared the Drone Ride to Disney World’s Soarin’ attraction.
“It’s nothing more than an IMAX theater,” Veilleux said. “You go in and you sit in this chair and it lifts you up. And the ride, it tilts you and there’s wind in your hair, and it’s just an incredible, immersive experience. And it’s really nothing more than a huge elevator chair that lifts you up. But the ride isn’t called an elevator chair—it is called Soarin’, because they’re not selling the technology. What they’re selling is the experience.”
Veilleux told FLYING Land Rotor has a five-year growth strategy for the Drone Ride, eyeing launches in 14 major cities.
Aeroauto, meanwhile, will handle all sales of Sportster aircraft and provide maintenance, distribution, and flight training services when the time comes. It’ll also connect customers with charging stations, landing areas, storage facilities, and whatever infrastructure they need to get flying. Strategic partnerships will add insurance and financing options to the equation.
The eVTOL dealer sells both personal and commercial aircraft from China’s EHang, as well as recreational models from Ace VTOL, Air EV, and others. Sean Borman, president and CEO of Aeroauto, said the Sportster is in the ultralight category shared by designs from manufacturers such as Jetson or Ryse Aerotech, so it must conform to the same speed, weight, capacity, and height requirements as its other portfolio aircraft. However, he said Land Rotor’s aesthetic design and comparatively low price point will drive sales.
“Jetson, for example, has 3,000 pre orders already, and they’ve just started doing their production,” Borman told FLYING. “And I foresee just as much or more desire and need and want for the Land Rotor [Sportster].”
Aeroauto has an agreement with Volatus Infrastructure to add eVTOL chargers and other systems to its showrooms. And through a partnership with airport RV rental company Fly2RV, it can tap into a network of FBOs to allow customers to purchase, test fly, and service vehicles at their local airfields.
“The customer, when they walk in with nothing, walks out before they leave and has everything that they need, with a schedule set up to have everything delivered once the vehicle is available,” Borman said.
Borman added that the company’s ability to distribute 10,000 Sportster units “shouldn’t be an issue.” He pointed specifically to the Fly2RV agreement, which encompasses more than 100 FBOs and is expected to grow.
The firm operates a handful of facilities in Florida. But it expects to have more dealerships worldwide by 2030, with plans to expand to Texas and interest from customers in California, India, Italy, Colombia, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates. If Borman’s words are any indication, Land Rotor will be a big selling point for that network.
“In my humble opinion, John and Land Rotor are going to be the Henry Ford of this new technology, of these flying cars, AAM,” he said. “You know, really being able to bring these vehicles to the masses on a grand scale, pricing it to the point that anybody can get one.”
The Sportster’s Specs
Land Rotor’s Sportster is designed to glide over roads like a rotorcraft, using lidar technology that keeps it close to the ground until flight conditions enable a legal, safe takeoff. The current prototype is not yet permitted to hover over the street, but Veilleux said that’s the ultimate goal.
“Everybody loves their ATVs,” he said. “And we thought, well, this is an air terrain vehicle, essentially, that we’re creating. It’s like a modern ATV.”
Initial Sportster models will be powered by lithium-ion batteries. Currently, the aircraft requires three hours of charge for just less than an hour of flight at empty weight, which Veilleux acknowledged is not ideal. However, the plan is to improve efficiency by swapping batteries for hydrogen or hybrid propulsion systems using biofuels.
The aircraft has a redundant electrical system, relying on four motors to lift a single 200-pound passenger. Another four motors allow any one of the main propellers to fail.
Its machined aluminum frame is surrounded by a carbon-fiber body, featuring a small windshield, which Veilleux admitted was added in part to make the vehicle “sexy.” A sweeping aerodynamic nose also has aesthetic appeal.
Land Rotor is working on a patent that would limit the aircraft’s forward and sideways movement, eliminating the 360 degrees of freedom associated with drones to ensure it operates more like a car on the road. The Sportster is also GPS-governed to max out at 50 mph and remain in ground effect. Those restrictions may limit use cases, but they could also tear down barriers for flight training.
The current prototype falls under the FAA’s Part 103 compliance for experimental aircraft.
“This is the closest thing to the Star Wars landspeeder that we’ve really ever seen, because the vehicle can stay on the ground,” Veilleux said. “So it is very plausible that we could work with the government in outfitting this vehicle to be legally used on the roads. So we currently are not authorized to do that, but that is the vision of it.”
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Sportster, though, is its affordability. With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $70,000, it’s comparable to a Tesla or an electric pickup or SUV.
“From what we’ve seen, that’s the lowest priced vehicle in the industry at the moment,” said Borman.
Veilleux didn’t directly compare himself to Ford as Borman did. But he did point to the similarities between the auto pioneer’s mission and Land Rotor’s. Just as Ford needed to convince the public to give up horses and buggies for those newfangled horseless carriages, Veilleux’s task is the same.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here is educate the public about electric air mobility, and we certainly want to make it accessible and more affordable and safe,” he said. “And so it is our hope that Land Rotor will be that pioneer that connects with audiences and people. All the companies are saying, ‘Hey, look at our amazing innovations.’…but nobody’s really, really connecting with the consumer in the way Henry Ford did.”
Replicating Ford’s success will be a monumental task. But as things stand, Veilleux predicted the first Sportster production model could be on display in an Aeroauto showroom in the next two years.
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