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Monday, Sep 26, 2022

Ben Tigner: Flying Dreams Soon Becoming Reality

Overair aims for '23 Butterfly liftoff

Ben Tigner’s Overair aims to make flying taxis the airborne equivalent of land-based Uber.

He co-founded the Santa Ana-based company in 2020 and the firm is now coming off a string of successes, including a $145 million funding from its South Korean backer earlier this year for the development of its all-electric Butterfly flying vehicles.

The prototype of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is expected to start flying in the second half of next year, with commercial service taking off in 2026.

The Overair CEO was honored at the Business Journal Innovator of the Year Awards held Sept. 8 at the Irvine Marriott.

“Ten years from now we’ll all be flying around in eVTOLs. It’s kind of a neat idea, isn’t it? It’s sort of something we’ve all dreamed about watching the Jetsons from way back when,” Tigner said during the event.

“Reality will be a little bit different from imagination, but it is coming soon.”

1st Prototype

Overair operates out of 203,000 square feet of space in two buildings at 3001 S. Susan St. and 3030 S. Susan St., near Segerstrom High School.

“We are beginning manufacturing of our first prototype for flight, and we are building up the team and hiring wonderful people,” Tigner told the Business Journal.

Overair is a spinoff from Karem Aircraft of Lake Forest, led by legendary Predator drone pioneer Abe Karem. Tigner served as president there before co-founding Overair with Karem.

A key innovation is using slow-turning propellers that produce very little sound, allowing the Butterfly vehicle to operate in high-density areas with noise-sensitive communities.

The advanced propulsion system, derived from decades of military work led by Karem, will also greatly cut down fossil fuel use and air pollution.

Recent Gains

The company in January announced the successful commencement of Butterfly’s full-scale propulsion system test program. It will hold up to five passengers and a pilot.

In another key move, Airbus executive Valerie Manning joined Overair as chief commercial officer earlier this month.

Overair plans to sell its airborne vehicles to other companies as well as run its own flying taxi service.

Other companies in the push to develop flying taxis within the emerging eVTOL space include Uber partner Joby Aviation Inc. (NYSE: JOBY) of Santa Cruz, which was valued around $3.6 billion as of last week, and Hyundai Motor Group’s division Supernal, which has its engineering base in Irvine.

OC Commitment

Overair has 130 employees and is growing.

“We have the majority of people here in Santa Ana, but we have people in a dozen states. We’re still hiring rapidly,” Tigner said.

In addition to several patents, Tigner holds a Ph.D. in physics and an M.S. in aeronautics from Stanford University, as well as a B.A. in physics from Cornell University.

Overair said on June 14 it had received its latest financing from Hanwha Systems, which provided $25 million in the company’s only other reported funding round in 2019, and Hanwha Aerospace. Both are part of the Hanwha Group conglomerate of South Korea.

The Butterfly vehicles are being designed to have a range of over 100 miles, the ability to recharge quickly between trips, and a top speed of around 200 miles per hour.

“Our development capability will always be focused in Orange County,” Tigner said. “We may not do all of the manufacturing in Orange County in the long run, but certainly in the short run we’re absolutely focused here.”

Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal

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