Interview with Sam Bousfield, CEO of Samson Sky

October 28, 2018

A version of this article first appeared in the September 2018 edition of our free newsletter, to subscribe click here

At the end of August I spent a couple of hours with Sam Bousfield and Senior Engineer Dana Beebe at their Prineville hangar. We had a wide ranging technical conversation and I was impressed with the level of detail and attention to the engineering specifics of the technical challenge they are grappling with.

Sam was kind enough to agree to an interview.

Can you describe what makes the Samson sky different to other roadable aircraft of the past and the present?
The Switchblade was designed to answer the question: “What is the best layout for a driving/flying vehicle?”, rather than “How do you make a car fly?“. Answering that question is what I feel was the most important aspect of the design that sets us apart.

The second was our decision to have a design that was high performance in both modes, and not compromise on that premise. With the power to weight of a Corvette on the ground, and the ability to achieve 200 mph in flight with reasonable range, the Switchblade has a high performance pedigree. Okay, it looks pretty cool, too!

What was the moment when you knew you would go forward with this program?
When the marketing surveys came in, we realized that we had a potential winner. We found solid support at a price point where we could survive as a company, and that made the future bright for us.

In the process from concept to customer, what has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced?
Financing has been the biggest challenge by far. Technically there have been challenges, but they have been spotted and tackled mostly in advance. While we are gaining investment traction now, earlier it took some creative thinking and running a tight financial ship to survive and make progress.

Which aspects have been more difficult to deal with? The aircraft aspects or the automobile aspects?
There are probably more aircraft related engineering issues that we have dealt with than driving related issues. I think the level of performance in the air, and the added safety required of that, tend to make it more difficult than anything on the ground.

The truth about this question is that there are lots of ways to deal with individual aspects of flight or drive. But, to make solutions for one work out well for the other is a worthy goal, and one we have worked hard to achieve.

How have you reconciled the difference between catering for the driver and the pilot with a single control system?
With the wings located between the front and rear wheels under the belly of the vehicle, we knew the rear wheels would be too far aft to rotate as one would typically in a tri-gear.

That meant the front wheels could not be held up to bleed off airspeed on landing, and that the front wheel would drop almost immediately upon touchdown. So that told us that the front wheel would always have to be connected to the control wheel, and that the pilot would not have time to change from a flying control mechanism to a driving control mechanism at touchdown.

The aero engineers did not feel that having a front wheel ‘steering’ while in flight would be problematic other than increase tail efficiency requirement slightly. The change of front tire direction was not great in flight. We looked at joystick controls for driving and flying, as well as other less conventional means. The simplest, we felt, was to use a steering wheel/control wheel that could be used for either. People are used to driving with a wheel, and a wheel can be used for flight as well. Our control wheel is oblong rather than round, as we have certain control features built into it for flying that aren’t related to the ground and it was easier to accomplish this with an oblong control wheel. You can still hand-over-hand it for cornering or controlling a fishtail maneuver if needed on the ground.

What involvement has the FAA had and what was their reaction to the concept?
All of my contact with the FAA has been positive, and all I have heard is ‘How can we help?’.  I have many supporters in the FAA who would like to see us succeed.

Who would you like to thank and give a name check to?
Our lead engineer, Alexander Bondar, and his team have been very helpful. Composite Approach in Redmond, Oregon also has been very helpful in the carbon fiber realm. Kevin Risse of Risse Racing in Redmond has been awesome at delivering machined parts, as has ISCO of Bend, Oregon. Composite Universal Group of Warren, Oregon, has given us some really nice carbon parts. Willem Anemaat and the guys at DAR Corp for their aero design, plus Rob Bulaga at Trek Aerospace for the ducted fan design. We have a lot of really good consultants and suppliers that deserve mention, but I know you may be limited in space here.

How do I reserve my Samson sky?
A Switchblade can be reserved at the SamsonSky.com web site. Until we fly, reservations have no commitment and no finances required. After we fly, we will ask for a $2,000 deposit which will be mostly refundable (less $500 for administrative costs) until we are in production.

Once we are in production, we will ask that people make their deposit hard, so we know how many engines, transmissions, and propellers to make.

When will you start customer deliveries?
Samson will begin initial production within six months of first flight, but will be ramping up production for almost 22 months before we really get the production machine in high gear.

We have to have a building built, assembly line established, supply chain established, production molds made, and assembly jigs built. Not an overnight operation! We also figure that we will need to remain agile in our business, so are taking that into account in the equipment we choose, and the way we lay out our spaces. Technology changes very quickly, so it pays to maintain as much ability to change as possible, even in manufacturing.

Any final words?
At Samson, we feel that we can have a positive impact on transportation. Knowing that you are working towards a worthwhile goal, and can make money doing that, is a really exciting way to spend your time. I don’t think there are too many days that staff in our shop come to work thinking “gee, only two more days until Friday”. People here are pretty pumped up, as are our suppliers and consultants.

We are accomplishing something that has not been done before on Planet Earth, and everybody who helps is thanked for doing so. When we succeed, it will be because the group pushed hard to make it happen. I can point the way, but with the help of the whole team, we can actually make it happen. That will be our legacy, and I hope many people can benefit as a result and drive/fly their way into the future.

To find out more about Samson Sky: www.samsonsky.com

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