By Will Guisbond

Will is a mathematics student at the University of Vermont, focusing on data journalism and system analytics. He has been flying since he was 14 years old and currently holds his private certificate. Follow him on Twitter @willguisbond.

news

BlackFly demo at AirVenture breaks Opener’s silence

Palo Alto, California-based Opener this week completed the first public demonstration of its BlackFly eVTOL aircraft at the Experimental Aviation Association’s (EAA) AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. During the daily airshow on Tuesday, the company flew two BlackFly models for a few minutes, topping out at speeds of 35 mph (56 km/h) and an altitude of about 70 feet (21 meters).

Opener BlackFly at EAA AirVenture
An Opener BlackFly during the EAA AirVenture airshow on July 27. The “EH!” on the side is a nod to the company’s Canadian heritage. Will Guisbond Photo

The landmark flight for Opener signaled a re-entry into the public space for a company that has largely remained silent for the last two years. Last year, Opener emerged on Twitter to say only, “we’ve been busy.”

That absence has been quite intentional, said Celia Oakley, director of information at Opener. “We’re well funded, and so we wanted to focus on the design, technology, and engineering without distraction,” she said. “We haven’t been promoting ourselves in the media because we have the luxury of being able to focus on the technology without needing to attract investors.”

When asked how that approach will fare for the public acceptance of Opener’s technology, Oakley said that the company is creating plans to introduce BlackFly to the world more publicly, although she didn’t provide specifics.

Public acceptance may very well be a very important piece of the model that Opener is pursuing, seeing that BlackFly pilots — which the company calls “operators” — do not actually need a pilot certificate to purchase and operate the ultralight aircraft.

Opener BlackFly
Opener’s ultralight personal eVTOLs won’t need a pilot certificate, but will be restricted on where and how they can be flown. Will Guisbond Photo

This philosophy translates right back to the company’s test team as well, given that all the operators flying BlackFly during testing are also engineers, said Eleanor Li, plant manager and operator at Opener. Li was the operator during the first flight at AirVenture this week, but like Opener’s prospective customers, she does not hold a pilot certificate.

“We have three operators here, and it’s all our first time flying at an airshow,” she said. “I’ve only ever flown BlackFly aircraft.”

Opener Team
From left, Opener’s Eleanor Li, Celia Oakley, and Kristina Menton. Li was the operator during Opener’s first flight at AirVenture this week. Will Guisbond Photo

Because of this model, the company plans to operate a two-day training program for onboarding new operators who purchase BlackFly aircraft, Li said. That program will be completed on Opener’s proprietary simulators, which consist of controls modeled after the real aircraft and run unique code meant to simulate the eVTOL’s behavior in flight. Li said that the company used the same simulators to repeatedly train for the flight that was conducted at AirVenture.

Although this lack of pilot certification might raise safety questions, the company maintains that its aircraft is extremely safe for anyone who chooses to fly it. The BlackFly has what Opener calls “triple modular redundant” systems, meaning that there are multiple built-in back-up systems that will sustain flight in the case of a failure, said Kristina Menton, director of operations for Opener. Menton said that’s an important piece of allowing non-pilots to fly the aircraft, supported by the training program.

Opener simulators at AirVenture
In addition to its aircraft, Opener has its training simulators on display at EAA AirVenture. Will Guisbond Photo

The training program will supplement a sales event that the company said it is planning for the fall, possibly signaling that it is ready to be in the public eye again. Menton reinforced that through her clear excitement about the completion of this week’s flight. “This is just the very beginning. It’s the first flight we’ve done in front of an audience greater than 12 people,” she said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what the aircraft can really do.”

Join the Conversation

11 Comments

  1. Yup, I’m pretty sure it would fit in my garden! I’ll take two, just in case 🙂

    But seriously, this is one very cool project. It has the potential of doing a lot for the UAM industry, perhaps as much as the Airspeeder.

  2. After receiving word from Opener they would be selling the BlackFly this fall and Opener providing me a copy of CFR 14 Part 103 on ultralights; I contacted the FAA requesting an exemption from Part 103.15 no flying in congested areas; as the BlackFly is roadable and I want to keep my Blackfly in my garage and leave and come back to my street; one to 4 autos per hour on my street and no trees and no power lines. Having sent the electronic copy of part 103 to me tells me Opener is following part 103 to the letter; which means without an exemption to 103.15 everyone else will need to operate from an airport. Just not practical or reasonable for me for an aircraft with a 50 minute endurance to operate from an airport.

    1. ZZTOP, Wings are what makes the BlackFly efficient compared to all the other evtols. In forward flight, the wings and wing lift take over relieving the propellers of providing all the lift. A course in aeronautics would help you out greatly. So you have the story backwards, wings are everything; no wings are nothing. And the rest of the evtol community will end up eating their hearts out; since Opener has a patent on their Blackfly; or will have to wait 17 years to copy the BlackFly.

  3. My nephew is working for Opener, good luck with this- his grandpa would be proud (my dad- Korean war vet and A-10 engineer).

    1. Mr. Donald, One must consider a charging station. With 50 minutes endurance, you can fly 100 miles probably; but would need to land at a charging station or bring a trailer by you or someone to bring the BlackFly home. So knowing where all the public charging stations are within 100 miles or closer you is important with a 50 minute flying time/endurance. Opener has not given any indication of any upsize changes in battery capacity or endurance; suggesting any changes are at least a couple of years away. For special LSA (light sport aircraft); is similar to type certificated aircraft; meaning any changes must be proven by the manufacturer or a supplemental certificate holder before being sold to the public. Why at least a couple of years for any changes. Opener spent the last four years accumulating 34,000 flying test hours on the BlackFly and will likely have to go through more flight testing with any changes; though it should not have to be 34,000 flying test hours. The Opener ladies flying at Oshkosh call themselves operators; not pilots. I presume to keep the market open and viewable to non pilots. Though based on CFR 14 part 103.15; non pilots will need to build flying time at an airport before the FAA will give them an exemption from part 103.15 no flying in congested areas. Mainly to insure good flying technique I assume and more importantly to know where the different classes of airspace exist and which classes a non pilot can fly in: classes C & D outside of control towers airspace; and G & E. One must have a clearance to enter class B or A airspace. Class A airspace is above 18,000 feet; so is not a consideration for the BlackFly. Class B is located around all large metro airports and one must have clearance to enter and be a private pilot. All licensed pilots know these rules. They must know them to pass the private pilots exam. And now probably the sport pilot exam, I presume.

      1. With a 25 mile range, that means one can only fly 12miles one way without needing to find a charging station and still be able to return home. To me that’s not enough.

  4. If you can afford one, then you probably have the assets to be sued. Can you imagine one of these things getting away from you and ending up in a crowd of people. Those props would chop people to bits. Anyone would be a fool to fly one of these things without liability insurance. And having liability on a number of dicey airplanes my guess is liability will be pricey. Probably more than hull. These non piloted vehicles should not be allowed in the same airspace with piloted aircraft….period.

  5. So it can only be landed on grass? No landing gear. Seems alittle hard on the airframe. I didn’t see a charging station close by. I see alot of problems.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.