Kitty Hawk's prototype personal aircraft flies over water

Kitty Hawk's prototype personal aircraft flies over water

The latest company to enter the race to build personal aircraft is Kitty Hawk, which has revealed a prototype electric vehicle that moves like a flying jet ski.

The US-based start-up – whose backers include Google co-founder Larry Page – is promising its first vehicle, dubbed the Kitty Hawk Flyer, will hit the market later this year. A video shared by the company this week shows it flying over a lake.

Technically a kind of octocopter, the Kitty Hawk Flyer has eight spinning propellers powered by eight motors – a construction it shares with many of today's most powerful drones.

These drones take off vertically and typically have a high degree of speed and manoeuvrability, as well as the capacity to keep flying should a couple of the motors fail.

Kitty Hawk joins a host of other companies in vying to be the first to bring out personal flying machines. The leader is arguably Chinese manufacturer Ehang, which presented its passenger-carrying drone at CES 2016 and has since been secured a contract with Dubai's Roads and Transportation Agency.

Other companies working on the technology include Airbus, Lilium and Uber. All incorporate electric motors and most come with some degree of automation.

However, Kitty Hawk – named after the town where the Wright brothers first tested the aeroplane – is positioning its Flyer as a vehicle for the joyrider. Restricted to running only over water, it is operated manually, and can apparently be flown by inexperienced riders after only a few minutes of instruction.

For now, the company is only planning to ship it in the USA, where it falls under the ultralight category of federal aviation regulations and so can be legally operated by a rider without a pilot's licence in areas that are not congested.

The company has said that the final sale version of the Kitty Hawk Flyer will have a "different look and feel" than the prototype demonstrated in the video.

The recent flurry of activity around personal aircraft appears to support designer Paul Priestman's prediction that such flying machines would be the future of transport.

"We've got these electric drones flying around everywhere," he told Dezeen in mid-2016. "[Electric planes are] just a scaled up version really. I think that's going to get really interesting – it could be the beginning of personalised transportation."

"It's like going back to the idea of jetpacks, but with lots of little drones."

Photograph by Davis Elen.