Alex Taylor envisions a future in which residents of Lowell will hop in a personal aircraft to make a quick 25-minute commute to their workplace in Chicago. He sees a time in which people in remote areas can be delivered life-saving supplies by autonomously flown planes that can land in a space the size of a parking spot.
It may be tempting to dismiss the 18-year old’s ideas as far-fetched, but they could become reality in your lifetime. The Lowell High School senior has founded a company, Wind Craft Aviation, and is currently working on technology that could change the face of transportation and maybe even the world.
In a hangar at the Lowell Airport, Taylor and a team of engineers will be working this year on a full-size prototype of a revolutionary aircraft. If it is successful, the design could radically change not only how people travel in the future but how governments and non-profits respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
Overseas Background, Love of Flying Converge
Working in aviation was a natural choice for Taylor. “My heart’s always been in flying,” he says. At age 16, he became the youngest commercial drone pilot in the United States. However, during the past two years, he’s changed his focus from flying for fun to flying with a mission.
Taylor was born in California but moved to Turkey with his parents when he was two-years old. He remained in Istanbul until age 12 when his family came to live in Michigan. “We interacted with a lot of refugees,” Taylor says of his family’s time overseas, “people who didn’t have the same opportunities.”
He also saw firsthand how other countries lacked the infrastructure of the United States. While most metro areas here have access to modern airports with adequate runways, that’s not the case in less developed regions. As a result, getting humanitarian aid to those in need can be a challenge. Even in the U.S. this has been a problem in the wake of natural disasters, such as when thousands reportedly died because they lacked access to water and medical care after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico.
For Taylor, there is a solution. It’s one that will not only help people in need but also create a more efficient form of travel for everyone. Taylor’s solution goes by the name Sally Jean, and its creation is the mission of his company Wind Craft Aviation.
Disrupting the Transportation Industry
Sally Jean is the name of the prototype Taylor and his team are creating. A model of the aircraft looks like something you might see on an episode of Star Trek, but Taylor says a very real, full-size version of the craft should be ready for testing by the end of the year.
Once completed, the aircraft is expected to hold at least 250 pounds while traveling at speeds up to 185 miles per hour and distances of 300-500 miles. The vehicle can be manned or flown remotely. “It costs about a third of a standard aircraft,” Taylor explains. “We’re giving people more freedom to fly.”
However, it’s not the cost of the aircraft that is most notable. Instead, it’s the fact that it will be able to take off and land on a very small footprint. “It takes off like a helicopter, and it flies like an airplane,” Taylor says is the simple way to describe it. “It will take about the same space as a parked car.”
The challenge in creating a craft with a vertical takeoff is finding an energy source that is both powerful and safe but won’t weigh down the vehicle. Taylor thinks he’s found the answer in an innovative hydrogen fuel cell. If his design is successful, he thinks it would first be used for humanitarian purposes but could later have broader implications on society as a whole.
“Our transportation system right now is dated,” Taylor says. His vision would move people off the roads and into the air to commute from smaller communities to big cities. Once in the city, workers could take public transportation rather than clog the streets with cars. Taylor agrees there would be a number of details to be addressed with this system, but it may be a better long-term solution than pouring millions into aging roads that will only crumble again in the years to come.
Bringing Investors Onboard
Taylor says the entire process of founding and running Wind Craft Aviation has been an education. He has always been naturally inquisitive and has sought out the advice and expertise of others to make his dream a reality.
“You have to open your heart and mind to the wisdom of other people,” he says. That has helped him make connections and build a team of 17 engineers, advisors and other professionals.
Funding is an obstacle for any start-up, but Taylor says he’s found interest from venture capitalists and business accelerators and is pursuing grants as well. Most recently, he pitched the project at Business Network Chicago where it was well-received. The company is currently trying to raise $300,000 that will help it access millions that are reserved for future development overseas.
Because of government regulations in the United States, it’s likely that Wind Craft Aviation’s first customers will be located elsewhere in the world. The company is looking at countries like Nepal or Kenya as business launching points once a successful working prototype is completed.
Next Steps for High School Senior
Despite all he’s accomplished with his business, Taylor is still a high school student. Having already completed all his required classes for graduation, he splits his time between an aviation maintenance program at Kent Career Technical Center and a work-based learning program. He will graduate from Lowell Area Schools this May and would like to earn his commercial pilot’s license next.
However, Wind Craft Aviation remains his top priority, and he is looking into opportunities such as the Thiel Fellowship to help him postpone college to develop his business. Regardless of what path his life takes, Taylor is sure of one thing: “I’ll make Lowell proud someday.”