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$1M GoFly Prize remains unclaimed

Japan’s teTra earns $100K Disruptor award

The GoFly Prize’s Final Fly Off, in which five teams selected for Phase II competed for the $1 million grand prize, was held at NASA’s Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, February 27 to 29.

And with the event concluded, the $1 million prize remains on the table. None of the teams that won GoFly’s Phase II, or any aspiring challengers, has been able to meet the GoFly Prize requirements. However, one team from Japan was thrilled to win the $100,000 Disruptor award, presented by engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

The GoFly Prize was founded with the goal of fostering the development of safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL personal flying devices capable of carrying a single person 20 miles, explained Gwen Lighter, GoFly founder and CEO. In Phase I, 10 awards of $20,000 each were made based on written technical submissions. Construction began with Phase II, which resulted in five prizes of $50,000 each following a demonstration of the technology. Those five teams, and others, were invited to the Final Fly Off where—in addition to the $1 million grand prize and the Disruptor Award, $250,000 prizes would be offered for both the quietest and the smallest compliant devices.

The challenge has drawn 854 teams comprising more than 3,800 innovators from 103 countries. Designs run the gamut from flying cars, flying motorcycles, hoverboards, and jetpacks to human-carrying drones and other designs. Teams have been refining and testing scale models as well as larger unmanned, mannequin-bearing, and even manned machines. The $1 million GoFly Prize originally was to be awarded at a Final Fly Off event in October 2019, which was postponed to February 2020.

Although the grand prize has not yet been awarded, it’s apparent from talking with the teams that the GoFly competition has accelerated the development of related technology. Several teams said they made significant design changes during GoFly’s final phase, as they learned more from testing earlier iterations. And at least one team logged numerous successful flights carrying a person, but a malfunction resulting in a hard landing earlier in the week disqualified them from flying for the prize—even though the aircraft was quickly repaired and subsequently flown.

Akihiro Mizutani, a member of Team teTra, takes his turn posing with the team from Japan's aerial vehicle at the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. The team had just received Pratt & Whitney's $100,000 Disruptor award. Photo by Mike Collins.

The teTra Aviation team from Tokyo won the $100,000 Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award in what organizers have begun calling the Inaugural GoFly Prize Final Fly Off with its teTra 3 machine. “We are thrilled to announce that teTra Aviation is the winner of the Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award,” Gwen Lighter said at the February 29 award ceremony. “The team displayed the technical design and creative prowess that we set out to inspire when we created the GoFly Prize. teTra created a unique personal flyer and we look forward to supporting them as they take the next steps towards revolutionizing human mobility.”

“Innovation has always been at the core of our DNA at Pratt & Whitney and we applaud GoFly’s efforts to transform the industry,” said Geoff Hunt, Pratt & Whitney senior vice president of engineering. “We designed the Disruptor Award to recognize the team that challenged the status quo, delivered unique thinking into a complex issue and considered safety, reliability, durability, and system integration.”

“This is beyond my imagination,” said Tasuku Nakai, teTra Aviation team captain and a doctoral student at the University of Tokyo. “The whole team is glad to celebrate this achievement. Personal flying is the future of transportation and I know there will be a day when every person will be able to take off and land anywhere.”

Attendees watch a scale model of the Texas A&M Harmony team's Aria personal helicopter power up February 29 at the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. Winds precluded any flying. Photo by Mike Collins.

The angles of the four fixed rotors differentiate Team teTra’s design, making it easier for the aircraft to transition between vertical and forward flight, explained Pritish Tripathy Debasis, an electronics research and development engineer for the team. Two rotors thrust upward, while the other two are angled forward. “It is always flying in both modes,” he said, adding that the design’s wing also provides some lift, increasing efficiency in forward flight.

Debasis said teTra might fly in about eight months. “We don’t want to rush,” he said.

DragonAir Aviation has successfully flown a person, but could not complete in the Fly Off. “I think we have an excellent chance of winning. The guys have been working really hard. But that’s not what it’s all about,” said Mariah Cain, who leads DragonAir and is its pilot, on February 29. “We’re just happy to be here.”

Her team endured a three-day drive to California from Panama City Beach, Florida, and then had to perform an airworthiness demonstration. “We had a malfunction and a pretty rough landing that took us out of the competition,” she explained. From the information available, it appears that DragonAir has logged more manned flight time than any of the other GoFly competitors. Cain and her team were immediately able to identify the defect; repairs required welding some replacement aluminum; then they passed a validation flight that would have allowed them to perform a demonstration at the GoFly event—but winds Saturday were variable around 16 knots, and no demonstration flights were able to take place.

More than 1,000 people came to Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, February 29 for the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. Here, some of them watch the event's airshow. Photo by Mike Collins.

“The GoFly Prize is a great stepping stone, and a great way to get our name out. But it’s not the end game for DragonAir,” Cain said. After GoFly she said she and her team will redesign the Airboard and build 10 aircraft.

While many of the GoFly teams are self-funded, others have sponsors, and a few indicated venture-capital investment. The venture capital market is looking closely at this segment of the aviation industry, and representatives of several venture capital firms were on hand at the GoFly Final Fly Off.

The GoFly Prize is supported by Boeing, the grand prize sponsor; Pratt & Whitney, the Disruptor Award sponsor; and more than 20 national and international aviation and innovation organizations. All participating teams also benefited from the guidance and expertise of a dedicated Mentors and Masters program. All 54 Master Lectures are available online.

“The grand prize is still up for grabs,” Lighter said. “We’re not changing the rules.” Information on next steps will be announced, she added. “Defying gravity is incredibly hard. I hope that 20 years from now, we are all flying like Superman and Harry Potter.”

Look for more about the GoFly Prize on AOPA Live and in a future issue of AOPA Pilot magazine.

Members of Team teTra, based in Japan, conduct an unmanned demonstration of their aerial vehicle February 28 during the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. The team received the $100,000 Disruptor award, sponsored by Pratt & Whitney. Photo by Mike Collins. Team teTra members celebrate after an unmanned demonstration of their aerial vehicle February 28, at the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. The team, from Japan, later received Pratt & Whitney's $100,000 Disruptor award. Photo by Mike Collins. Members of the Texas A&M Harmony team pose after demonstrating a scale model of their Aria personal helicopter at the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. Photo by Mike Collins. Pete Bitar of Team VertiCycle demonstrates his personal VTOL aircraft, the VertiCycle, on February 28 during events surrounding the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. Photo by Mike Collins. Team Jayu's aircraft, designed by Ben Sena and Soojae Jung, combines a wing with eVTOL capabilities. Here it transitions to horizontal flight after a vertical takeoff. Photo by Mike Collins. Ben Sena of Team Jayu, second from left, and Soojae Jung, third from left, carry their aircraft at Moffett Federal Airfield after a demonstration flight February 28. Photo by Mike Collins. Trek Aerospace designed the Trek FK2 to compete for the GoFly Prize. This latest iteration of the design has not yet flown. The company designs and sells shrouded propellers. Photo by Mike Collins. Mariah Cain, who leads the DragonAir Aviation team, poses on their Airboard. Damaged in a hard landing earlier in the week, it was repaired but could not compete for the GoFly Prize. Photo by Mike Collins. Team ZEVA's personal air vehicle is displayed at the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. The design combines eight electric motors with a flying wing. Photo by Mike Collins. Anthony Windisch has been working on the design for his Aircycle, scaled up for the GoFly Prize competition, through scale models for 34 years. The full-scale craft has not yet flown. Photo by Mike Collins. Team Aeroxo, from Russia and Lativa, has been refining the design of its personal aircraft. It was rolled out of its tent for display during the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off. Photo by Mike Collins. Members of the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing, based at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, California, conduct a rescue demonstration February 29 during the GoFly Prize Final Fly Off airshow. Photo by Mike Collins. Members of Team teTra join GoFly Founder and CEO Gwen Lighter, wearing white at center, after she announced that they won Pratt & Whitney's $100,000 Disruptor award. The $1 million GoFly Prize was not awarded and remains available. Photo by Mike Collins.
Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died from COVID-19 at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.
Topics: Experimental, Urban Air Mobility, Aviation Industry

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