25th February 2024

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Flying cars in our lifetime? South Carolinians could be first to take to the sky. | Hilton Head

BEAUFORT — For some, bumper to bumper delays inspire rage. But for Tomohiro Fukuzawa, founder of the Tokyo-based flying car startup SkyDrive, rush hour fueled a vision, one in which commuters could escape gridlock by taking to the sky. 

In February, the Federal Aviation Administration indicated that Fukazawa’s vision could become a reality in the not-too-distant future. 

At the South Carolina Aviation Association’s annual conference in Spartanburg, representatives from the agency assured a room full of pilots and industry professionals, including Georgetown County Airport Manager James Taylor, that safety regulations for the first generation of flying cars were forthcoming. 

“They said they believe it’s the wave of the future,” Taylor said. 

The Beaufort County Economic Development Corp. has been courting SkyDrive since 2022. In January, Fukuzawa announced his company would be establishing a footprint in the U.S. market, choosing Beaufort as home to SkyDrive’s overseas operations. 

This means South Carolinians could be some of the earliest adopters to this futuristic technology. 


SkyDrive founder and CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa. 2022 SkyDrive/Provided

The distant future 

SkyDrive’s promotional video features a sports car. In place of wheels, it has four propulsion turbines that allow it to hover over the highway.

In the video, a businessman is running late for an important meeting when a disembodied feminine voice informs him of a traffic jam up ahead. She recommends switching to fly mode. The man agrees and, after he settles on one of two recommended flight patterns, the car ascends toward the clouds. 

The flight is fully autonomous, leaving the man with nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the view. Although the airways are packed with flying cars, not being restricted to roads allows for plenty of space. Triumphantly, the man touches down on the roof of his company’s building with time to spare.  

The video, titled “The Future World,” is a far cry from the current reality of flying cars. Today’s versions are not really flying cars but something the industry calls electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs.

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In 2020, SkyDrive showcased their early eVTOL model, the SD-03, at the Toyota Test Field in Tokyo. 

At that event, the pilot got maybe 20 feet off the ground and made a labored loop around the field while masked spectators hidden behind a protective cage cheered.

The company touted the model’s four-minute flight as the first public demonstration of a flying car. But the SD-03 bears closer resemblance to an outsized drone than a car.

For one thing, instead of wheels it has landing gear similar to a helicopter, rendering it incapable of moving across land.

And like a drone, it is powered by electric propellers.

In the SD-03’s case, there are a total of six, which both lift the single passenger aircraft off the ground and steer it.

But according to SkyDrive’s U.S. business development manager, William Fugate, comparing the SD-03 — or SkyDrive’s more recent two passenger model the SD-05 — to a drone would be like comparing an airplane to a space shuttle. 

“There is a lot more technology in the flying car than there would be in a drone,” Fugate said.  


The SkyDrive team at the Toyota Test Field for the test flight of the SD-03 model eVTOL in Tokyo. SkyDrive/Provided

Although SkyDrive’s ultimate vision is for an autonomous car that can both drive on the ground and soar through the sky, for now the company is focused on having a fully functional model of the SD-05 ready in time for the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. 

Shortly after the expo, SkyDrive hopes to have the certification required by the Ministry of Transportation to release the SD-05 in Japan.

By 2026, the company hopes the Federal Aviation Administration will follow Japan’s lead and allow the aircraft to enter the U.S. market. 

But this doesn’t mean the airways will be transformed into a scene from “The Jetsons” in a few short years. 

Even if U.S. officials were to allow the SD-05 to take flight by 2026, Fugate believes the cost will prohibit all but the wealthiest of private consumers from owning their own flying car. 

In addition to forking out for the cost of the aircraft, a person would need a hangar to store it and a team of mechanics to maintain it. Because the SD-05 is not autonomous, it would require a pilot’s license to operate. 

The more immediate future  

Pilot Barry Brock, owner of Seven Rivers Aviation in Georgetown, said he believes one of SkyDrive’s biggest hurdles is the limited capacity of the current batteries.

“The problem is, when you have anything in a hover, whether it’s a helicopter or a drone, it uses a lot of power,” Brock said. 

But SkyDrive sees the most prominent road block to be public acceptance of the new technology. Fugate views the battery’s current capacity for a 6-mile flight as more than enough for the public to begin to embrace the concept of a flying car. 

Frank Murray, the director of planning and facilities at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, has been working with SkyDrive to come up with early use cases for the SD-05. As the crow flies — or, in this case, the eVTOL — his airport is within 6 miles of downtown Columbia. 

Murray envisions a possible use case in which travelers who come into the airport could avoid traffic by being flown into the city in one of SkyDrive’s SD-05s.  

Or, early flights could be thrill-seeking opportunities over popular tourist destination such as Hilton Head Island. 

The thought is, people will return from vacation and tell their friends and family they rode in a flying car and lived to tell the tale. 

If the public embraces the new technology, SkyDrive is banking on companies seeing an opportunity and pumping resources toward the development of more innovated batteries. 

“Slowly, SkyDrive plans to shift from something that is kind of a novelty experience to something that you can use on a daily basis,” Fugate said. 


A rendering of the SkyDrive’s SD-05 “flying car.” SkyDrive/Provided

The company plans on operating on a similar model as Uber or, perhaps the more appropriate comparison, Lyft. 

In addition to partnering with both the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and the Greenville Downtown Airport to map out practical use models, SkyDrive has signed a contract with Volatus Aerospace. Based out of Ontario, Canada, Volatus specializes in commercial drones and unmanned aerial vehicle technologies. They will be responsible for building the landing pads, known as vertiports, for SkyDrive’s eVTOLs. 

The SD-05s will be stored in hangers at the airports. To catch a ride, a person would just have to pull up an app on a cellphone and order an SD-05 to land at the nearest vertiport. 

Besides the limited battery life, the SD-05 is capable of carrying only one passenger and the pilot. Other eVTOL companies are working on larger aircraft that would carry a group of people and operate on a set schedule, similar to a bus. 

According to Taylor, at the aeronautical convention in Spartanburg another early use case discussed was the transportation of donor organs. If a patient were waiting in a hospital for a new heart, the donor organ could be rushed from an airport to the hospital in an eVTOL. 

Another use case discussed at the convention was package delivery. 

“UPS is chomping at the bit. They want to go right now with this stuff,” Taylor said. 

Although there is some debate over what the early uses for the eVTOL will be, one thing the industry seems to agree on is the fact that flying cars are the future. 

In February, The Post and Courier reported that airports around the state are preparing to install infrastructure to support eVTOLs. The Florence Regional airport is currently putting in an eVTOL charging station. It will be the first of such stations in the state. 

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Taylor is currently working with an engineering team to come up with ways to utilize unused land at the Georgetown airport. In order to increase economic input in the future, the team is asking themselves what aviation entities will dominate in the years to come. They are trying to tailor the land to best meet the needs of these entities. 

“We’d be fools not to consider or plan for the infrastructure requirements to support an eVTOL port,” Taylor said.