Why Hasn't Elon Musk Made an Aircraft Yet?

Caroline Delbert
Photo credit: STR - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

A piece of concept art has Tesla fans wondering if Elon Musk would consider making an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle. The designer, Tom Abbot-Davies, made the concept art three years ago when he was an industrial design student at London’s Loughborough University.

The 2017 design was resurfaced in April by an eVTOL enthusiast website, where they shared the model and its hypothetical specs and reported that Abbot-Davies used the design to apply for a Tesla internship.

What now has fans excited is that Elon Musk replied to a Twitter mention to say the design "looks cool."

So what would it actually take for Tesla to make an eVTOL of this kind? Inverse explains that Musk has teased the idea himself as far back as 2008, but that his more recent remarks have suggested he doesn’t think battery technology is up to snuff to make a meaningful eVTOL rather than just a drone. Might Musk reconsider?

An eVTOL basically amounts to an electronically powered jet thruster. Researchers are always searching for a way to use electric power to trigger powerful reactions that could launch a jet out of Earth’s atmosphere. Battery power alone probably won’t do it, because traditional jet thrusters involve controlled explosions. Musk himself has suggested using nuclear power to get to Mars.

Abbot-Davies’ concept isn’t a spaceship, though. It’s more like a drone, but with enough room and thrust to carry a passenger, and eVTOL News reports that it’s small enough to park in a driveway. From the sound of it, this vehicle would replace the pill-shaped getaway car Tom Cruise jumps into in the 2002 film Minority Report—not carry passengers into space.

That means any issues of thrust are much more, well, down to Earth. And Musk’s discussion of eVTOLs has had this idea in mind, because he’s said publicly that an eVTOL craft like this would require about twice the energy density of an electric car battery. The balance between vehicle mass and thrust capability is much more delicate—an overly heavy electric car might be slow to get going, but if an eVTOL is too heavy, it simply won’t take off at all.

It’s hard to see where an eVTOL might fit into the real portfolio of projects Musk is working on, which right now includes everything from "protecting the light of consciousness," to revolutionizing HVAC systems, to naming his baby X Æ A-12.

But it would be super cool to have an eVTOL in your driveway, and knowing Musk, that means the idea is always still somewhere in the playbook, no matter how unlikely.

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