Alef Aeronautics CEO Jim Dukhovny Talks Model A Flying Car

InsideEVs spoke with Alef Aeronautics' CEO, Jim Dukhovny, on the firm's plans to create the world's first flying car.

Alef Model A flying car with VTOL Alef Model A flying car with VTOL

Building a car is no easy task. Building a car with a new propulsion system not available off the shelf makes that task even harder. Building a car with a new propulsion system that can also fly— well, treacherous might be the best word to describe that.

Alef Aeronautics is working to create the world's first production flying car. The Alef Model A is a sleek, electric, flying car that looks like a somewhat normal ground vehicle. Many flying cars aiming to enter the market don't hit the "looks like a car" box. Jim Dukhovny never liked that.

Jim Dukhovny is the CEO of Alef Aeronautics. Immigrating to America after the fall of the Soviet Union, Dukhovny spent his formative years living in Palo Alto at the epicenter of the tech boom. Jim's late father, Leonid Dukhovny, was an engineer and a well-known singer-songwriter.

Learning from his father, Dukhovny says that any successful venture must incorporate both creativity and practical engineering. To put his vision into action, he had the opportunity to start a new company eight years ago.

Alef Aeronautics - The Company

Founded in a Palo Alto-based coffee shop in 2015, Alef Aeronautics is working towards one goal: building the first flying car. Starting from a napkin drawing, Dukhovny and three engineers, Pavel Markin, Dr. Constantine Kisly, and Oleg Petrov set out to conquer the uncharted territories of flying cars. On the path to the vehicle, the team wooed investors, including Tim Draper, a Series C and D investor in Tesla.

Currently in the prototyping stages, the Alef Aeronautics team is working on what they have dubbed "Model A." The Model A aims to be the first flying car on the market, and the firm has a strict brand identity— to keep its flying car looking like a car.

The Model A - How It Works

While the design may appear ambiguous at first glance, it is actually quite straightforward. Effectively, the passengers sit inside a capsule at the center of the vehicle. Surrounding the capsule is a car-dimension-sized frame that houses several propellers. Shrouding the propellers is a mesh-like material that enhances the design and allows for airflow. This gives it a car-like appearance.

"The two biggest constraints are the size and the weight," Dukhovny said. "We are literally fighting for every pound." While building a passenger drone allows for massive propeller blades creating optimal lift, the Model A's silhouette is that of a passenger vehicle. Fitting within these tight guidelines, the Alef team had to completely rethink the design for the Model A to get respectable range figures.

The Model A features VTOL capabilities, but in flight mode, the body will pivot ninety degrees, and the car will fly sideways. The pod encapsulating the driver and passenger will then act as a gyro stabilizer of sorts. The Alef Aeronautics engineers realized that by flying this way, the flight time will be much improved as it would effectively fly as a giant wing.

"The better and the bigger wings you have in our case, the more {range} you can get out of the same battery," Alef's CEO told InsideEVs. "The goal is distance; the goal is not to make the battery better." Alef Aeronautics says the Model A should be able to travel 110 miles in flight mode.

The implications of a flying car are many. "What's important right now is that we have the most important functionality: the full-size driving, the full-size takeoff, and the full-size flying, so we've got that functionality," Dukhovny told InsideEVs. "But there's still a way to go before we get there." Dukhovny also said that due to governmental regulations, the car must operate as a low-speed vehicle (LSV) on the ground, meaning "It's {top speed is} 25 or 35 [mph], depending on jurisdiction."

Despite the hurdles from the legislative, engineering, and technological world being thrown at Alef, one pillar Dukhovny says is the most essential— safety. Safety is the firm's primary goal. "We want to make sure that it a) is safe and b) feels safe," Dukhobny told InsideEVs. Bringing a car into an operational space of three dimensions makes using it significantly more dangerous, so having it comply with both FAA and NHTSA regulations is a necessity.

Alef - The Future

Alef Aeronautics targets 2025 in which production will commence for the first deliveries. Dukhovny is clear that these will be hand-built in Alef's Palo Alto facility. The team is focused on ensuring the weight is as light as possible. Dukhovny added that hydrogen isn't completely off the table, as vendors have contacted the group about implementing that technology.

The goal for Dukhovny and the Alef team is to build the first true flying car. "What we're trying to do is make sure you will be able to do everything you can do in your Toyota or your Tesla, but have one more functionality," said Dukhovny. "... Not give you a helicopter."

Alef Aeronautics takes pride in the vehicle's design and the team at which. At the end of the day, Dukhovny wants his company's creation to be a better car. "From the consumer standpoint, we are a car with one more functionality. From the engineering and R&D [perspective], we are spending 95% on the flying part and 5% on the driving."

Alef Aeronautics recently said it had collected 2,500 pre-orders that could result in $750 million in sales. The startup will also likely work with a California-based dealership group to sell its Model As. The initial Model A will have a $300,000 MSRP.

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