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October 27th, 2010
05:00 AM ET

Missionary builds flying car, FAA certifies it

Editor's Note: CNN Correspondent Kate Bolduan and Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi bring us this story from Dunnellon, Florida.

Sparks are flying as we walk into the airplane hanger. Steve Saint is sharpening a machete on an electric grinder.  He comes over to introduce himself wielding the knife he extols as both a tool and a weapon. But we've come to talk about something else he is working on, a flying car.

Saint heads i-tec, the Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center. He is working with the Waodani tribe at the edge of the Amazon in Ecuador to help them solve a transportation riddle plaguing hard to reach regions all over the world: What do you do when the road ends? His solution, build a flying car. So he and his team did.

See video of the flying car in action here.

While we were getting the tour of the workshop, officials with the Federal Aviation Administration were in the back office with i-tec's engineers going over the final paperwork for the Maverick. By the end of the day, Saint held in his hand the FAA certification for special airworthiness for a light sport aircraft, the first such certification for a flying car. (A vehicle called The Transition is similar, but it's not a flying car. It's a roadworthy plane, meaning it's a plane that can also be driven on the road with its wings folded. Read about The Transition here.)

Saint is one part Christian missionary, one part pilot, one part inventor.

He grew up living in Ecuador. He tells us that his family moved there after the Waodani Indians speared his father to death. His dad, Nate Saint, a pilot, was part of a group of Christian missionaries trying to make contact with the tribe. They did, and according to the younger Saint, paid the ultimate price. Saint's family didn't give up trying to make contact with the tribe.

"I was just a little boy when my dad was killed, but I knew that my dad really cared enough about those people that he was willing to risk his life so that they wouldn't be killed by the oil company and the government," he said.

Eventually his aunt Rachel was able to make contact again and live with the tribe.

"The only sense I could make of that was my dad thought these people were really special people, and my aunt wanted to live with them, mom was praying for them. By the time I met them I was convinced these were the most special people in the world. And then one of the warriors, actually a man by the name of Minkai, he adopted me, and started treating me like on 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."

Eventually Saint went away to school, built a career in the United States, and married a girl from Minnesota.

In 1994 his aunt Rachel died. The family honored Rachel's request to be buried in Ecuador. The tribe told Saint it was time for him to return. Saint and his family agreed and went back to live in the jungle.

The tribe asked Saint to teach them to fend for themselves rather than have to depend on outside aid to survive. Out of that grew the small Florida based non-profit that today is i-tec.

"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. "And it's taken a while. I retired from business 16 years ago, and people don't pay you to do this, and my wife Ginny and I just decided, 'hey let's do this.'"

The Maverick flying car is just one piece of the puzzle for I-Tec. "We've been working on this particular project for six years," Saint said. "But it's just one, the bigger thing that we do is developing health care technology and tools and training systems so that we can train people that live out in the jungle areas, that don't have any formal education, and don't have access to doctors or nurses or midwives, or optometrists, or dentists, teaching them how to take care of these needs for their own people. That's really what we're doing."

Scattered around the shop are some of the innovations. They developed portable dentistry equipment that can be carried on your back through the jungle. They also created a hand bike designed to help the handicapped conquer difficult terrain in areas where a wheelchair won't work. But the pièce de résistance is by far the Maverick.

I-tec experimented with several different versions of the powered parachute to take the car from the road to the air.

To switch from drive-mode to fly-mode, the operator has to deploy a mast and parachute. The chute is tucked away on the roof for the car and the mast is underneath the chassis when the car is in drive mode. The mast locks into place, the parachute is attached, and it is raised to over 25 feet. All the driver has to do then is switch the motor from drive to fly, pull back 100 yards, and take off.

When they sat down at the drawing board, Saint and his team had two goals for the vehicle in addition to flying: It had to be rugged enough to drive in the jungle and cheap enough that non-profits like his could afford one.

The Maverick is rugged. Saint took us for a spin around the airport where i-tec is based. It rides like a car on the road and bounces like a dune buggy off road. Its structure is chromoly-steel tubing and the black skin of the vehicle is canvas. That, in combination with the fact the car propulsion and air propulsion use the same engine in the rear of the vehicle, makes the Maverick extremely light. It is half the weight of a Smart Car.

"The Maverick is not only a practical flying car but it's also a beefy car," says Logan Ward from Popular Mechanics. "They put a Subaru engine in this thing with 250 horsepower. It goes 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds.We were really impressed they gave it that sort of on-road performance."

Popular Mechanics gave the Maverick one of its 'Breakthrough Awards' in 2009 after Ward wrote a piece about the prototype. "This thing is poised to hit the market. They have plans to sell it, to manufacture it. 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," Ward told CNN.

I-tec hopes the Maverick will go into production soon now that they have secured FAA certification for flight and road certification as a kit vehicle (the Maverick has a Florida license plate that reads "FLY CAR"). Saint says if they can manufacture about 100 per year, a job they will send out to a manufacturer, they think the price will be around $80,000 for each Maverick.

Saint wants to get the price down and believes the commercial market is the best way to reduce the cost. "The commercial market will get the quantities up to get the cost down. Plus we're a non-profit company so we don't live to make a profit, but if the commercial market is successful we'll use that for more research and development and to make these available to people in frontier markets - people who don't have the resources to buy it at a commercial rate," he said.

Saint thinks there are hundreds of commercial applications for the Maverick. ."You can take it on really rugged terrain. So with this one, you can fly over, find somebody that needs to be rescued, and you can land and drive to them," he said.

"Border patrol, pipeline monitoring, out on the gulf, BP with the big oil slick.  You could take off from the back of the fishing trawler. Get the fishing trawler going 20 miles an hour, and you could take off in about 20 feet, and then you could go out, what you can't see from the surface you can see from 1000 or 2000 feet. You see a huge expanse. Ranching and extreme sports - there's just all kinds of uses. I'm sure we'll be surprised by the uses people put this to."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Culture & Science • Florida • Missionaries • United States

soundoff (167 Responses)
  1. Joseph

    As long as people like Steve Saint are around, I have faith in this nation to rebuild and thrive!! Well done.. Bravo.. Kudos!!

    October 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  2. John

    Well, for all you folks who think these people were better off before, you should know that before they came, none of the folks in the tribe had living grandparents, because they were so murderous, that no one lived that long. I guess that would be a better way to live, expect to be killed young. Ya Think????

    October 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  3. Merogman

    And people thought we had problems keeping drugs out before. $80,000 is a very cheap price to move several million dollars in drugs in just one flight. I imagine DEA, FBI and Homeland must have their mouth stuck open.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  4. Dennis

    Missionaries have a long a proud history of being the vanguard to the end of indigenous tribes.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  5. Jason

    Unbelievable!! Apparently it's not okay to love and help people if it's in the name of Jesus but it is okay to be a jerk in the name of skepticism. This man's family risked their lives to love and serve the people that killed this man's father and SOMEHOW you find a way to have a problem this. It must be very sad in your world. Good on you, Steve, for living the words of Jesus and not just manipulating them for your personal gain.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Dennis

      My magic man good! Your magic man bad!

      October 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  6. philly

    This is a $30,000 vehicle, TOPS... Lower the price to where it SHOULD be. Let NORMAL people try this kind of stuff out. A Subaru engine and that body and materials even with a HUGE profit margin is nowhere close to $30-$40,000.

    Comon guyzz....

    October 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Stan

      You're right... until the FAA and lawyers get involved... then the price doubles (or quadruples.)

      October 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • cbc

      So build yourself one forf $30k.

      By your logic, since a Maserati only has two seats, so it should cost 1/3 as much as a minivan. Right?????

      October 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  7. philly

    Uhh $80,000 for a car with nothing in it but a shell, tires, an engine, and a propeller slapped on the back of it w/ a parachute?? Hmm gee a tad overpriced dont ya think????

    October 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  8. Bluebird71

    these tribes are people, you know. Not animals. living off the land is a very romantic idea – until you get sick, or see a child choke just because nobody knew how to perform the himelick. Ignorance is not beautiful.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  9. Danielle

    Those who speak negatively about this should read the books on it by Elisabeth Elliott and Steve Saint, and watch End of the Spear and Beyond the Gates of Splendor, so that you have an actual intelligent conversation about it.

    This tribe was already wiping itself out due to vendettas...they were known for being an extremely murderous tribe and due to this their lifespan was very small. Now they live long lives due to learning about the Truth of the Gospel and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, that's why you see older men in the above photo. One of those men speared Nate's father and now they are best friends, because Jesus brings forgiveness and healing. Now Nate is doing all he can to help them while still allowing them to maintain their culture...they have been very careful to do this while still helping them in practical ways. Notice they're building a flying car not building roads out there and expecting them to just connect with the outside world. Again, please actually do your research and get educated on the matter before you spout off the first negativity that comes to your head.

    October 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  10. Bill

    I've been watching this project develop over several years and have met Mr. Saint, as well as Minkai, the man that speared his father to death. What an amazing story of sacrifice and forgiveness. NL's comment about saving polar bears is shocking. For heaven's sake, we're talking about human beings, not animals. The very tribesmen that speared Nate Saint and his friends have said in their own words that they were thrilled to be shown a way out of their circle of violence and revenge. Imagine this, those very tribesman, including Minkaie are now coming to the United States to missionary to us. How's that for coming full circle? Best of luck to Steve Saint and the whole i-tec team!

    October 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  11. Gary

    Outsiders can think that they know what’s best for these people. But, what do the Waodani Indians think of the outside influence? I have personally talked with Minkai (the warrior who killed Steve’s dad). He thanks God every day for those who came in to help them.

    October 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  12. TomT

    Performance of a Turbo Porsche at less than 1/10 of the price, and it flies and goes off-road too! Love it!

    October 27, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  13. MzPz

    Quote "Anthropologists generally have less favorable views of the missionary work begun by Operation Auca (Saint and others), viewing the intervention as the cause for the recent and widely recognized decline of Huaorani culture..." Seems that, as usual, this article is the "Christian" view vs. the "scientific" view. What's new?

    October 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • ML

      @MzPz

      Quote, probably from the same place you got yours, "Others are somewhat less negative—Brysk, after noting that the work of the missionaries opened the area to outside intervention and led to the deterioration of the culture, says that the SIL also informed the Huaorani of their legal rights and taught them how to protect their interests from developers.[34] Boster goes even further, suggesting that the "pacification" of the Huaorani was a result of "active effort" by the Huaorani themselves, not the result of missionary imposition. He argues that Christianity served as a way for the Huaorani to escape the cycle of violence in their community, since it provided a motivation to abstain from killing.

      October 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tom

      Selective quotes in the negative without reference to the alternative from within the same academic article? Hmmm..... I though it was the atheists who accused the Christians of trying to pull the wool over people's eyes?

      October 27, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  14. Jaydeen

    We don't really need more confused people in the world...

    October 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Yes, I agree. That's why he's trying to tell these people about the Truth.

      November 4, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  15. Rose

    To bring aid? How about to spread the good news about Jesus Christ!!! His dad gave his life to further the gospel. And because he died, this tribe came to the gospel. Even thought they killed his dad, this man knew that this tribe still needed Jesus, so he and his mom went back to them. To all you who say that the tribe should be left alone, He's not trying to modernize them. He's trying to spread the love of Jesus and is doing a great job of it!

    October 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dennis

      Zeus protect us all

      October 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  16. MzPz

    Wings of Hope is a similar cause: http://www.wings-of-hope.org/

    October 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Dennis

      I don't think so, it looks like wings of hopes actually does some good.

      October 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  17. FZM

    $80,000?!? You can buy an actual (used) airplane for far less than that.

    October 27, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • TomT

      Can drive a plane on the road!

      October 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  18. John

    My first question is why the hell we want to pollute the jungles. Let the jungles be there and lets preserve the tribes culture and their inhabitants. By doing this flying car etc etc, we need to depend on oil, ATC, security etc etc and we pollute them also. So why we use in US instead of Ecuador? Guys think twice before doing any Missinoary work. The Christian Missionaries toally destructed the indeginious people in almost in entire planent and we lost valuable information. One example native red indians in US killed by British! so please stop it in hte name of conversions...

    October 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Dennis

      and it doesn't matter how often it happens...they keep doing it. I'm torn with deciding if it's ego or greed that motivates them.

      October 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • VMI08

      Well I can only speak for myself, but I truely do believe in God and what the bible says. And If I do believe that, then I must also beleive that there are a lot of people who a destined to die and then suffer for eternity. I'd have to be a very mean person not to tell people about a way to avoid suffuring.

      October 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  19. Steve C

    Brilliant! 'Meet George Jetson........................

    One in every home

    October 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  20. beadrock

    Just and FYI about the missionaries who first contacted the tribe.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Auca

    October 27, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.