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Personal flight for first respondersPersonal flight for first responders

Terrafugia founder has something new in mindTerrafugia founder has something new in mind

Flying car pioneer Carl Dietrich wants to equip firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders with a pretty cool tool to get to the scene of an emergency faster by flying. Whether that takes the form of something wearable, or a flying machine made to ride, remains to be revealed.

Jump Aero does not aim to replace manned aircraft for emergency response, but rather to build machines to fly responders to the scene, one at a time. AOPA file photo.

Dietrich, who earned his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded Terrafugia in 2006 with a group of fellow graduates to build a practical flying car, which would be a world first (the “practical” aspect, anyway), left the company in 2019This fomented speculation in the aviation world as to what he might be up to next. Dietrich continues to serve on industry committees that seek to shape the future of aviation, but it wasn’t clear what he might want to build until Jump Aero issued a recent press release announcing the new company’s creation—and a plan to build personal transportation options for emergency response.

“We want to help first responders in general get to the scene of an emergency in less than half the time,” Dietrich said in a video interview from his new desk at the new company in Petaluma, California.

Dozens of companies large and small, from garage-based startups to the likes of Boeing and Airbus, are racing to craft electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to serve as the next generation of air taxis. Dietrich said Jump Aero is not going to try to grab a slice of that much-buzzed and nascent market, but rather to create something that fills a niche that is likely to enjoy quick public acceptance. While noise and other issues may delay public acceptance of fleets of flying taxis, Dietrich expects that speeding up the delivery of advanced life support in time-critical situations is unlikely to get much pushback: “How many people are really going to raise a fuss over an emergency vehicle going to save somebody’s life?”

Dietrich said the design of the vehicle is still at a “conceptual” stage, and will not be revealed soon. He said the main goal with publicizing the effort long before the prototype takes shape is to engage with the emergency responder community early, and gather their input on what attributes, features, and design elements would fit the missions.

Carl Dietrich spoke to AOPA about his new venture in a January 7 video chat with AOPA Live.

“We want to learn, basically, what they value the most about the vehicle,” Dietrich said.

He did provide a few other details. The concept currently being considered would not involve patient transport, which would require a much heavier aircraft (thanks in no small part to the energy storage requirements and available battery technology). Dietrich said the machine should have enough range to fly a useful distance with reserve fuel (energy) available beyond that to satisfy current VFR requirements. The system will be somewhat simplified for pilots, but not autonomous, and some pilot training will be necessary. Dietrich also serves as chairman of a General Aviation Manufacturers Association committee studying ways to simplify the piloting of future aircraft, and the concept Jump Aero has in mind is consistent with that larger effort to make aviation more accessible.

He said the vehicle will not be a big departure from the multirotor eVTOL designs that have begun to proliferate, though smaller than most.

“There’s no magic here,” Dietrich said, but there will be some “proprietary technology” involved.

Another goal is to help win more public support for and approval of aviation in general: “One of the things that we want to do at Jump Aero is really get across some of the tangible benefits of aviation.”

The Jump Aero team, which includes MIT-trained veterans of Terrafugia, Still Water Design, and the Community Air Mobility Initiative, according to the press release, looks forward to talking to more first responders to collaborate on the design. The company invites anyone in the emergency response profession to contact the team through the company website.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Flying Car, Urban Air Mobility

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