I-TEC Founder Builds FAA-Certified Flying Car


In 1956, when Steve Saint was 5 years old, his Christian-missionary father Nate Saint was stabbed to death by the Waoroni Indians at the edge of the Amazon in Ecuador.

Now, Steve Saint lives among the tribe, and in late-September 2010 received Federal Aviation Administration-certification for a flying car he built to provide the Waoronis with access to the outside world, reports CNN.

The turn of events in Saint’s life seems anything but ordinary. Despite his father’s death, Saint’s family continued to reach out to the Waoronis, a characteristically violent tribe known for revenge killing. The documentary End of the Spear tells the complete story through Saint’s eyes.

In brief: After his father’s murder, Saint’s family relocated to Quito, Ecuador, where Saint attended school. Meanwhile, his aunt Rachel Saint befriended and moved in with the tribe in the jungle. At 10 years old, Steve Saint began spending summers with the tribe.

“…One of the warriors, actually a man by the name of Minkai, he adopted me, and started treating me like one of his boys, because he realized having speared my father I didn't have anyone to teach me how to live, so he taught me the skills I needed, you know, blow gunning and making spears,” Saint told CNN.

Saint later moved to Illinois to attend Wheaton College in 1973, receiving a B.A. in economics, followed by working as a real-estate developer and entrepreneur in Minnesota, then Florida.

In 1994, his aunt Rachel passed away, and Saint immediately flew to Ecuador to bury her. The tribe insisted he return to live with them in the jungle to help them improve their living conditions and build a stronger economy.

So, Saint relocated to the Ecuadorian jungle, bringing his wife Ginny and their child. He founded I-TEC, the Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center, helping the Waoroni Indians survive with minimal outside support, bringing supplies and health care access to the remote indigenous group.

"What we're doing here at I-TEC is we're reinventing the technology so it fits the people so that they don't have to become like us," Saint said.

Six years ago, I-TEC began work on the Maverick, a project to provide Waoranis access to the rest of the world "when the road ends," as Saint puts it. "If you get sick and don't have an airstrip, you're dead."

In 2009, when the FAA approved the craft for testing, Popular Mechanics gave the contraption, deemed the Maverick, one of its “Breakthrough Awards.” Now FAA-certified, the Maverick --recently reinvented as the Maverick Sport-- is no toy. The 250-horsepower Subaru engine accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and takes flight within 100 yards. The parachute, stowed on the roof, attaches to the mast. When the parachute is raised over 25 feet, and the motor is switched from drive to fly, the car takes air. Watch the Maverick Sport take flight:

Made of chromoly-steel tubing with a canvas-backside, the hybrid craft is rugged and light—it’s half the weight of a Smart Car—bouncing along jungle terrain and flying high above the treetops, up to 2,000 feet. Top ground speed is 80mph, air-speed 40. I-TEC's upgrade to the Maverick Sport shrinked the four-seater car to a two-seater, avoiding tighter FAA-licensing guidelines.

In an effort to make the Maverick commercially available, I-TEC is side-stepping Federal Highway Administration certification, a pricey and time-consuming procedure, and instead designing it as a kit car, which can be licensed in most states. According to the FAA, the Maverick qualifies as a powered parachute, requiring a Sport Pilot License as opposed to a standard pilot license. That minimizes obtaining a license to 12 hours of powered-parachute flight training, passing a written test, plus a few other minor procedures. Then you're ready to roll and take flight.

The only vehicle somewhat similar to the Maverick is Terrafugia Inc.'s "Transition," considered a “roadworthy plane,” meaning the aircraft can drive with its wings folded, reports CNN. It runs close to $200,000. The only other flying car to receive street and air legal certification by the FAA was the Moulton Taylor's Aerocar, approved in 1956 by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (later re-named the FAA), though it was never commercialized.

“They have plans to sell [the Maverick], to manufacture it,” Lance Ward with Popular Mechanics told CNN. “They have a price tag. This is becoming a reality where so many flying cars have just been pie in the sky toys for billionaires.”

With AirVenture 2011 on the horizon in July, I-TEC plans to make the Maverick Sport available for purchase. So far, more than 120 people are on the waiting list for the Sport. The first 20 people pay $79,000, and the rest $84,000. I-TEC hopes production goes up and prices go down. Saint wants the cost of the Maverick low enough so nonprofits like his can afford one. He foresees commercial uses of the flying car for "border patrol, pipeline monitoring, out on the gulf, BP with the big oil slick….”

For Saint, there is never an end of the road. Once the Maverick Sport takes off, he plans to make the flying car float, so it can motor across lakes and rivers.