Like a cross between a snowmobile and a giant drone, Thomas-John Veilleux's one-man flying car is more hovercraft than helicopter.
Thomas-John Veilleux, founder and CEO of Land Rotor Manufacturing, leans on his prototype flying car in Gorham on Tuesday. Veilleux wants to manufacture the hovering vehicles in Maine and hopes to be selling them, for around $70,000 apiece, by 2030. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

GORHAM, Maine — Thomas-John Veilleux dreamed up his flying car idea one night in 2018.

In the morning, he sketched out his rough designs on paper and then began taking steps to make his fantastic idea a reality, finding engineers and founding a company.

He thinks a flying car in the sky might just be his destiny.

“You know the Wright brothers first flew 120 years ago, on Dec. 17, 1903, right?” he said. “That’s my birthday.”

Five years after the nocturnal brainstorm, the Augusta-born, Florida-based entrepreneur is in Maine finally showing off a full-sized flying car prototype, trying to locate deep-pocketed investors willing to help him set up a manufacturing plant in his home state. However, the enthusiastic CEO admits his creation is still largely untested, with many regulatory and safety hurdles yet to clear.

Looking like a cross between a snowmobile and a giant drone, Veilleux’s one-man flying car is more hovercraft than helicopter. Designed to operate just a few feet off the ground, Veilleux hopes to circumvent federal regulations so drivers won’t need a pilot’s license to operate it on the road.

“Remember Luke Skywalker’s land speeder?” Veilleux said, making a “Star Wars” reference. “Like that.”

Calling his company Land Rotor Manufacturing, Veilleux hopes to be selling his flying car by 2030, for something like $70,000 apiece.

The prototype version is plain, black and made of carbon fiber. With four sets of double rotors, it measures 10 by 12 feet and weighs about 250 pounds, including the batteries that power it. In the future, Veilleux said there may be models that generate their own electricity with hydrogen or biofuel.

More advanced models are also likely to be more luxuriously appointed, with plush seats, a bigger windshield and a cover to keep out the elements. Veilleux thinks his designs will appeal to folks who enjoy high-performance motorcycles and jet-powered watercraft.

Before he gets to the commercial manufacturing stage, Veilleux plans on opening a Florida theme park based on his craft within the next year. He has experience in both tourist attractions and flying vehicles. Veilleux was one of Maine’s first commercial drone pilots and has been working for the last few years on the technology end of Sunshine State theme parks.

He plans on opening his facility in an 18,000-square-foot building nestled between two other established aviation-themed attractions. Veilleux’s small theme park will feature 14 flying vehicles, all inside and tethered to the ground with hydraulics, which patrons can learn to fly for $18. Using virtual reality software and headsets, patrons will also be able to race each other.

“This will be four-dimensional,” Veilleux said, “an immersive experience.”

He understands he’ll need a lot of money to get his full-scale manufacturing business further off the ground and will also need to work out the legality of people operating his low-flying aircrafts on the nation’s byways.

But Veilleux insists he’s ready for the challenge. Plus, the flying car’s time has finally come.

“I’m 56 years old. ‘Back to the Future’ is my all-time favorite movie,” Veilleux said. “Where are our flying DeLoreans? Well, here they are.”

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.