A report from Forbes says Google cofounder Larry Page’s secretive Kitty Hawk flying car startup is experiencing significant challenges with its Flyer vehicle. Forbes describes the Flyer as “a single-seat, battery-powered aircraft intended to be a low-altitude fun machine for use over water, like a jet ski on rotors, with handling that would make flying as easy as driving.” Yet according to former Kitty Hawk employees who spoke to the publication, the machine is anything but “fun” or “easy.”
Two former engineers at the company told Forbes the Flyer suffered frequent breakdowns and, more alarmingly, batteries and electric motors that caught fire. One such fire was caused by batteries that had become damaged after a Flyer crashed, necessitating the Mountain View Fire Department to come put the fire out.
Two former employees also told Forbes that Kitty Hawk was intent on bringing the Flyer to market quickly, and thus was willing to overlook safety concerns. Specifically, two former employees told Forbes that Kitty Hawk let go of two members of the flight test team when they expressed concerns about the safety of the Flyer. As one former employee told Forbes: “It was a pattern—if you talked about safety you were done, so you just didn’t. That’s just how it had to be if you wanted to keep getting a paycheck.”
A Kitty Hawk advisor would not address the firings with Forbes but said Kitty Hawk employees are required to report safety-related issues. As of now, those safety concerns aren’t an immediate threat to the public as the Flyer is yet to be launched for commercial use. And recently its use has pivoted. Originally the Flyer was intended to be a personal flying vehicle individuals could purchase. Now, Forbes says, Kitty Hawk is considering using the Flyer as a type of “aerial ferry” that would make pre-programmed routes just over bodies of water—a surface that could be handy if fire safety issues persist.