Back in 1954, a football match between Fiorentina and Pistoiese ground to a halt when UFOs were spotted above the Stadio Artemi Franchi in Florence.
One of the players on the pitch was Italian World Cup international Ardico Magnini. “I remember everything from A to Z,” he said. “It was something that looked like an egg that was moving slowly, slowly, slowly. We were astonished we had never seen anything like it before.” More than 60 years on from that game those objects remain a mysterious talking point amongst locals. Should any fresh calls come in about a new unidentified flying object traversing the skies over Tuscany, this time there is an explanation.
Based just south of Florence is Jetson, a personal eVTOL developer which has just been granted the first ultralight certification for this type of aircraft in Italy, only weeks after it closed a $15m seed round led by music artist and former lead member of the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am.
The certification allows pilots to fly the Jetson ONE eVTOL in Italy’s uncontrolled airspace (a world first for aircraft in this category Revolution.Aero believes). Aero Club d’Italia also issued it the first registration certificate – I-X078 – for a recreational ultralight eVTOL, allowing licensed pilots to fly the pre-production aircraft. Jetson says this is possible with minimal training. On top of that, the OEM was granted an operational authorisation by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority to fly unmanned Jetson ONE’s remotely in the firm’s test airspace. All of which means reported ‘UFO’ sightings could be on the rise in the Tuscany area.
“We started the seed round last year and actually we did not expect it to go so well,” Tomasz Patan, founder and chief technology officer, tells us. “Usually seed rounds don’t. We are excited because we have attracted a number of great investors including will.i.am.
“Now these funds will be used to start production next year. This is a very nice first step towards mass production, but we are aware of the costs and cannot afford to make too many mistakes here. We are also in a process of continuous development and have just started flying our prototypes a lot more often.” Jetson has eight prototype aircraft, the first of which it has just retired.
As well as investing, will.i.am, who has designed car concepts with firms including Mercedes-Benz and DeLorean, will also become one of the first Jetson pilots. “I’m proud to be a part of the Jetson family and support the company’s mission to democratise flight, opening the skies to all. Personal aircraft ideal for short point-to-point flights will soon be a reality,” he said.
Patan says by choosing the ultralight, personal aircraft approach the firm is setting a precedent for the eVTOL sector as a whole. The company has sold more than 300 units at a total price of $98,000, with a down payment of $8,000 required to reserve a serial number. “We have specifically chosen this route. The vehicle is mostly recreational with some interesting use cases, but what I think makes us unique is the fact that we are at the convergence of different developments in technology. We decided not to wait for the regulations, instead building something that can be flown today.”
Jetson also aspires to solve the same challenges that fellow eVTOL developers are approaching in areas such as cargo and air taxi, but Patan says the firm is taking a “Tesla-like” step-by-step approach – ultralight certification and commercial production is the first.
Given Jetson is founded in Poland, why did the team choose Italy as a base for its testing and production HQ? The answer is why a lot of people go to Italy, the weather. “We started in Italy in 2018 for a brief period when we built the first proof of concept. Then we moved the operations back to Poland until 2021 but the weather was far from perfect. Italy gives us the opportunity to fly a lot more often,” says Patan. “As well as the food and wine being beautiful too.”
The founder tells us it was “incredible” to finally get the paperwork and hit two birds with one stone. “One of them allows us to fly with our test pilots all around Italy which is fantastic. The second part allows us to fly remotely. This way we can expand the flight envelope way quicker than we could with pilots onboard, truly accelerating the last steps of our development,” he explains. The registration also opens the door for Jetson ONE to gain its own aircraft classification next year.
The chances of recreating that game from 1954 are slim. Fiorentina sit fourth in Italy’s top league, whereas Pistoiese now play in the fourth tier. That said, we find ourselves in aviation’s fourth revolution where not many thought they’d ever see a Jetson flying. Maybe one could revolutionise refereeing.
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