A secretive electric, flying car company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page has refunded deposits to customers after prototypes caught fire.
The personal flying aircraft maker Kitty Hawk encountered both technical and safety issues with its ‘Flyer’ model, and has had to confront issues over its practical use, say four former employees out of six who have come forward.
The company based in Mountain View, California, where Google is headquartered, also appears to have given up control over another model, known as ‘Cora’, the sources told Forbes.
The personal flying aircraft maker Kitty Hawk encountered both technical and safety issues with its ‘Flyer’ model, and has had to confront issues over its practical use, say sources. The most current ‘Flyer’ model from the company’s website is pictured
The most current ‘Flyer’ model from the company’s website is pictured flying from a different angle. Kitty Hawk confirmed to Forbes that after unveiling a more refined version of the Flyer in 2018, it had decided to not sell the one-seater aircraft to individual users
Kitty Hawk is a subsidiary of Zee Aero, a company which Google co-founder Larry Page founded in 2010 with a $100 million investment
Kitty Hawk confirmed to Forbes that after unveiling a more refined version of the Flyer in 2018, it had decided to not sell the one-seater aircraft to individual users and returned deposits customers who wanted to purchase the final product.
It and Boeing, its partner in the Cora, declined to comment over the model’s current status.
A spokesperson for Kitty Hawk did not immediately respond when DailyMail.com reached out.
The setbacks come two years after the company had promised its flying cars would be available for purchase by the end of 2017.
Kitty Hawk had officially launched that same year after months of rumors and speculation. The company is a subsidiary of Zee Aero, a company which Page founded in 2010 with a $100 million investment.
While Zee Aero would work on other flying car designs, Kitty Hawk would focus on electrical aircraft that resembled flying jet skis.
No flying license would be required for piloting the personal aircraft, Kitty Hawk said on its website. A $2000 discount was offered – on a price that had not yet been announced – for anyone who made a $100 deposit.
The machine was described as ‘safe, tested and legal to operate in the US’, as long as it is flown in ‘uncongested areas’. Users could learn to fly the vehicle in minutes, the company claimed.
But the sources now charge that management, intent on bringing the Flyer into service, ignored employees who had concerns over problems with the aircraft.
Forbes reports that two members of the flight test team were fired after questioning the aircraft’s safety, and others on the team who spoke up quit or moved to another project at the firm. Those individuals declined to speak with the magazine.
Kitty Hawk’s one-seater ‘Flyer’ model is pictured from the company’s website
‘It was a pattern — if you talked about safety you were done, so you just didn’t’, said one former employee. ‘That’s just how it had to be if you wanted to keep getting a paycheck’.
The sources said that the Flyer suffered frequent breakdowns and fires connected to batteries, electric motors and wiring, two former engineers told Forbes.
A fire was reported last year at the Flyer building, the Mountain View Fire Department confirms.
City records show that a fire at the Google-owned building involved damaged batteries that were removed from one of the aircraft that crashed after it was flown by remote a day before, Forbes reports.
An image of an early Kitty Hawk flying electric vehicle is pictured from YouTube
Shernaz Daver, an advisor to Kitty Hawk, said ‘no person has ever been harmed or exposed due to undue risk in over 26,000 test flights with over 100 prototype vehicles’.
However, Daver did not comment directly when asked about the fires or reports of breakdowns and battery issue.
The advisor also did not comment on the sources’ claim of employee departures, but said workers at the company are required to report safety concerns to managers.
Employees also have a confidential, digital portal for sending messages directly to the company’s lawyers and human resources, and can anonymously discuss safety issues with an external safety director, Daver explained.
Kitty Hawk had been one of the first companies to attempt making a flying electric car, and depended on Page, whose wealth is valued at $60 billion to come through with significant backing to get the company’s prototypes flying.
The challenges for the manufacturers of electric flying vehicles have come from the current batteries available, which have limited flight times and the carrying capacity of such aircraft.
Rushing an untested prototype into the air is possible, but still comes with potential risks, which may explain why a strategic partnership with Boeing in the development of the Cora model also may have changed.
According to public filings and organizational shifts, described by former workers, the aircraft manufacturer appears to now be fully in charge and may have acquired the program.
Kitty Hawk still has the Flyer and an autonomous one-seater vehicle known as Heavyside, which was designed to fly faster and with less noise than helicopters.
Flyer, meanwhile, is no longer being marketed as a recreational vehicle, says Kitty Hawk, which is exploring possible commercial uses, including using the aircraft as an aerial ferry, reports Forbes.
‘We have moved to seeing it as a transportation service and not as a vehicle for individual purchase’, said Daver. ‘It is going to be a ride sharing model for transportation services’.