Pontifications: Do you really want the Jetsons zipping around?

By Scott Hamilton

Jan. 24, 2023, © Leeham News: “For those of you old enough to remember, this is the Jetsons. This is the dream. This is what everybody would love to do.”
This cartoon is what former Boeing CEO Phil Condit used to segway into the hot topic of Urban Air Mobility vehicles (UAM). A cartoon is an apt illustration of UAMs.

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You walk out your front door, climb into the vehicle, and off you go. “All of a sudden, it looks like you can do that,” Condit said. Condit made his remarks on Jan. 9 at the University of Washington aerospace class.

Today’s Urban Air Mobility concepts hark back to the 1960s cartoon series, The Jetsons.

There is a concept called Air One, a battery-powered two-place UAM that has folding wings and a folding structure for the rotors. It fits in the garage. It uses a landing pad in front of the house. “This is a step to the Jetsons. What’s the problem?” Condit posited. “Well, there are a number of them.”

The advertisement shows Air One has 771 horsepower and a 96nm range. Reserves aren’t mentioned. A competing concept called Icon A5 shows 100hp, a range of 427nm, and a 45-minute reserve. This has wings to carry the lift. “Taking off vertically is not cheap. Wings are way more efficient than vertical lift.”

Condit pointed out that Air One suggests you could fly to a favorite fishing spot. But, Condit said, “unless your fishing spot has a charging port, I’ve got two vertical take-offs and two vertical landings. I have a net effective range of 30 miles. So, your fishing spot has to be within 30 miles.”

Class B Air Space

The biggest problem, however, for the Jetsons is Class B airspace governing air operations near airports. Air Traffic Control compliance is required in Class B air space. “If I’m going to fly in that general vicinity, I’ve got to be really capable.” There are minimum altitudes, visual flight and separation rules, and other requirements special to Class B air space. “Do I really want to have several thousand of these zipping around?” Condit asked.

Phil Condit. Credit: Leeham News.

“Can it be? Yes, there’s no question. Should it be? That’s a much bigger question.”

Condit said the challenge of the plethora of eVTOL and UAM concepts isn’t whether they will work. The challenge shifts to the ground operations—the vertiport. With most of the concepts seating fewer than 10 passengers, the transportation limitation is huge. A vertiport with eight parking spots can serve around 400 passengers a day.

“There are about 600,000 people who commute into New York City every day. If I want to touch 10% of them, that’s 60,000 people. If I’m going to do that with these vehicles, I need a lot of landing spots. There are four in New York,” he said. Rooftops currently are cluttered with HVAC equipment. But if the roof is available, a building with 5,000 people in it can be served by eVTOLs and UAMs at the rate of about 45 people an hour.

eVTOLs flying from New York City to the three commercial airports serving the region will transport about two-tenths of one percent, Condit estimated. Airlines can offer this as a premium service, but “is it really urban air mobility?”

Supersonic and Hypersonic

If eVTOLs and UAMs are at one end of the spectrum, supersonic and hypersonic transports are at the other. Boom Aerospace proposes the Overture 80-passenger SST, a concept that has drawn wide skepticism among observers and experts. Unable to persuade GE, Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney and Safran to design an engine for the airplane, Boom put together a group of three companies to do so. None has designed and built an engine anywhere near the 35,000 lb thrust category needed for Overture.

Condit is on the Boom advisory board.

“Technically, [Overture] is very achievable. The issue is economics. It will burn more fuel. Boom said it will be 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). SAF is more expensive than Jet A fuel. Can you get passenger demand to make it interesting? I think the answer is probably yes.”

Condit predicts that the current prohibition of supersonic flight over land could be modified to noise regulations at levels that will allow Overture to fly over land. “If that happens, then supersonic gets interesting.”

Hypersonic transports at Mach 5 are a much tougher challenge than the SST. Condit sees hypersonic as a “really tough problem” to come to successful development.
Condit believes some eVTOLs will come to market successfully, and possibly some hybrids. The SST would be a premium product. He believes Boom’s group of three companies to design and build an engine is possible. It will be a long time before hypersonic airplanes emerge.


28 Comments on “Pontifications: Do you really want the Jetsons zipping around?

  1. The UAM at scale will only happen if Honeywell or similar companies develop a complete power, charging, control, navigation, communication, auto flight, avionics package that is certified. Then the UAM’s can design its shell structure and chose paint scheme, battery, prop and motor suppliers and hook everything to the “Honeywell” system. Most likely Thales would develop the same package for EU and maybe a few more like Collins Aerospace-Hamilton Sundstrand of Raytheon Technologies.

  2. The funding for all this hype is starting to dry up.

    Institutional investors / private equity are no longer attracted to hot-air companies that don’t have convincing prospects of making solid profits in the short term.

    Symbolic for this is the ARK Innovation ETF, which only invests in “future tech”: its stock price has gone down by 70% in the past 14 months.

    Tesla stock has also plummeted 70% from its high: investors have come to the realization that its just a car company — with other car companies as competitors — rather than some hyped-up Messianic company-of-the-future.

    A solar-powered car company in The Netherlands stopped operations this week — it’s surprising that it held out for so long.

    Lots more to come.

  3. Tesla still has the highest profit margin per car other than Ferrari. Tesla is not going anywhere and to my surprise the rest of the Automakers have yet to keep up or at least make a competition out of it. Model year 2024 and 25 are the years the “competition” will flood the market with EVs. We will see if the market responds to them.

    ARK was delusional with its $4K per share Tesla guidance, but they made money and selling stock at its peak. I agree with cheap money is no longer available but investors and VCs are always looking for the next big thing.

    I just find it hard to believe a startup is going get a supersonic prototype flying and eventually certified. Have they decided on engines yet? I would have went to the China and found investors for this and develop it there.

    • Tesla lowered its prices by up to 20% last week in order to address increasing competition — there goes the fat profit margin.


      BYD has now overtaken Tesla as the world’s largest auto maker:


      Tesla still has a P/E ratio of 41 — which is more than twice as high as that of an average S&P 500 stock, and 8 times higher than that of other car manufacturers. ..so it’s still overpriced.

      • TSLA definitely had a run up but the fact that they can cut prices says there’s still more profit. That is the sustainable part of their business plan, they’re first to invest and can stay a step or two ahead of legacy automakers in cost and systems. I think they’ve solidified their position as an automotive company, possibly to be joined by a few others with working vehicles today. It’s not stock advice but I don’t think TSLA is going anywhere, maybe further down but they’re now entrenched.

        • I don’t think that TESLA has much room remaining.
          It started as a noob but _slim_ company.
          They have expanded successfully and now the process of ossification will set in. TESLA will gain in paper pushers depressing their current cost advantage. Overhead grows until the productive foot is crushed. ( Just like anywhere else. 🙂

  4. On CNBC today:
    “How these new electric aircrafts could disrupt the $49 billion helicopter industry”

    Of note:
    “An estimated 200 companies are working to build electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs), a new type of small passenger aircraft designed for transportation within congested urban environments.

    ““Helicopters are very expensive to operate for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason is that they have multiple points of failure, which eVTOL aircraft won’t,” said Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines
    Ventures, which has invested in startups in the space called Eve and Archer Aviation. “The electrification makes the aircraft safer. Safer aircraft also becomes less costly to maintain.””

    • williams:

      I think the chickens are coming home to roost. Tesla is facing competition as well as his personal goals getting involved.

      But 10s if not 100s of thousands of so called tech people are getting laid off, the Dot Com bubble strikes again.

    • As per the stock, you are worth what the market says you are. ”


      Lets apply that metric to Boeing “managed share value”.

      • Call it what you want Boeing has made me money. Funny no one has a problem with Google or Amazons P/Es, and they have been out of whack for a while.

  5. And lets add autonomous driving to the Jetsons flying cars fiction. Not going to happen, not this liability world.

    • Not that this is not a bust but I would argue its more likely to be autonomous to avoid liability than letting a bunch of people that drive badly into the air.

      Or training untold thousands of pilots and paying them?

      • Yes, like letting thousands of young BMW driver getting airborne…
        So automation is needed where you just click on the screen where you want to go and let automation and ATC do the flying.

        • Autonomous machines = less or no autonomy for humans (remember them?).

          No thanks.

          • Bill7:

            I think the same thing every time I get on the road, automation can’t be any worse and you can fix automation!

  6. I sure hope restrictions on supersonic are not “modified” to allow
    sonic booms over land, just so rich “folks” can have a fast n’ fun ride.

    • Bill7:

      Well I think they have to get into the air first and the only sonic boom as they come down.

  7. Having spent all too much time atop said buildings working on that HVAC equipment, I can tell you the only access is through a mechanical rooms.

    So yea, open the Mechanical room door at 6 am for the first passengers so they can troop through the equipment (boilers, pumps, fans ) and down the stairs to the top floor where they catch their elevator.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  8. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” – Peter Thiel

  9. Back in the real world, my friends in valenki tell me a new group is formed to develop an indigenous, long range biz jet. The design goal is for the aircraft to fly to any point in the world from any point in Russia avoiding “unfriendly air space”. Ditto China. Ditto India i.e. 15k+ range.

    General layout of the proposed type is conventional but the wing borrows from MS-21 with an AeroComposit main spar so the wing will be thin and “очень быстро!” The rest of the airframe is all composite too. Engines will be a version of the PD-8 and FCS/avionics is shared with the SSJ-New.

    Russian aerospace are having money thrown at them presently. The principals are predominantly ex-Sukhoi but led by Myasishchev people. Myasishchev are the most capable of all the Russian design bureaus. It (the aircraft) will be branded “Aurus”.

    As far as I can gather, this aircraft is of the largest type of biz-jet so I think Gulfstream and Bombardier have sold their last airframe to that part of the world but moreover it signifies that the bifurcation we see currently is is seen by Russia (and China) as permanent.

    • Fastship:

      With all due respect, where Russians can fly they have borders with or an easy work around.

      You don’t need a special biz jet, you just take 20 passengers on an MC-21.

      The reality is that would be the equivalent of Boom in the US. It is not happening. Neither is the 1000 commercial aircraft by 2030.

  10. There is a large off airport use for these UAMs. Ambulance services from hospitals. Removing the pilot from the vehicle makes it possible to deploy them in useful numbers. They would be quite useful where bag and drag distances or ground congestion makes conventional ground based ambulances less desirable. They also make a lot of sense in today’s hybrid transport model where a ground based ambulance meets an air asset at a predesignated rally point for patient transfer to shorten transit time. Food for thought.

    • Yes, but with pilots making them expensive doing almost the same mission as a R22/R44 helo. There are applications were the low noise, small size and no emissions makes them outcompeting helicopters. They can also be automated a bit easier, still batteries are expensive and with finite life making the cost climb. One can think of a racing series where rich owners and manufacturers works teams compete over a racetrack using a defined 3D track in space (like 10-60′ over Nurburgring) race track.

      • That is nothing but focusing on a tiny application at incredible cost and as such, it is not going to fly.

        There is an R-66 electric flying. We know what the cost of it is. The cost of the whiz bang E-joy machines is 10x or worse and simply non feasible.

        Much like the argument on Boom so you can fly organs around. They worked that out long ago with cold storage modules. Its not the transport, its the availability in that case.

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