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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. Elsie

    We applaud your work........

    November 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  2. Ray

    @ Steve Saint,
    Normally, I don’t add comments in a chat forum like this...but there are so many negative comments. Wow, must be a full moon or something.
    Anyway, I want you to know that what you and your team have done is actually amazing. I am an Engineer and I am familiar with the cost of developing a prototype. I am sure that many of the parts currently need to be custom made which increases the cost. Hey…you made the news with it and received an award from Popular Mechanics. I’m willing to bet none of the other Bozo’s with their negative comments can say that.
    Critics have and always will exist. Anyone can be a critic, it takes very little effort. No solutions have to be thought up. No designs need to be tested. Just find something to be negative about and go at it. What a sad and lonely existence.
    I also think your motives are good and just. Those who are questioning those motives simply cannot grasp the idea of why someone would ever put so much effort into something without personal gain. This is simply an effort by them to put you on their own level. They cannot understand it, because they have never experienced the reward of giving freely without expecting something in return. It is a completely alien concept.
    Put the negative comments where they belong. You have done something very good here.

    November 2, 2010 at 4:38 am |
  3. Bek

    I am impressed with exactly how sick and twisted people can turn the words in this story. Most of these comments are from people who wouldn't ever get off their backsides to do anything to help humanity, they only like to bash those who do. This family gave up everything they had to help these people, and they did it in love. What kind of power were they seeking? They live in a jungle!!

    In America today it is completely acceptable to bash Christians and their faith, but culturally unacceptable to say anything against atheists, Muslims, budhists, Hindus, etc. Why is that?

    November 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Luke

    @ Wisey: I'm so sure. Christians don't want to take over countries. They just want sinners to get saved so they won't go to Hell. What's wrong with that? You people get so bent out of shape about Christians who just want to save you from eternal damnation.

    November 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  5. Andrew VA

    Now multilevel parking garages can make use of the upper levels for once.

    October 30, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  6. JLG

    I find it very interesting that so many posters here seem to be quite willing to share their faith (humanism, hedonism, atheism, etc.) with anyone who will read the words they're typing from their comfortable armchairs...and in the process they slam a Christian family who have forsaken comfort and career for the sake of helping a remote tribe in a remote part of the world–people nobody else cared about, especially not these jeering posters.

    Atheists don't believe in God, of course, and they hate Him very much. Curse God, curse His children, sneer at His power, see the whole world through your cynical, self-focused lenses–but you're missing out on an abundant life. You're missing out on the whole point of life.

    October 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  7. Dan

    This is really incredible! I find it interesting how the discussion hasn't focused much on the technological advancement, but rather on Saint's "motives" behind this achievement. For those of you judging his actions, be sure that your judgments are not hypocritical. Think of everything you have done to help anybody without expecting anything in return (specifically the poor and those facing extermination), and if it amounts to anything, then compare it to what Saint and his family have done. Yes, he is seeking to evangelize these people. From his Christian worldview, everyone needs Christ to be eternally secure. He isn't "forcing" them to accept Christ. True religion is voluntary. They have to make a choice between their former religions and Christ. Nothing wrong with that.

    October 29, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  8. Ashford

    They are indigenous people. Leave them alone. It is nobody's job to bring them anything. Let them keep their culture, their lives, their own faith and traditions. The last thing we need is more of the Western world driving the spear of "helpfulness" into yet another local culture, especially when the tip of the spear is a missionary. They are called missionaries for a reason: they have the vocation of preaching the tenets of the abusive tradition of Christianity.

    October 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • Louise

      I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you have had no first hand experience with the indigenous people you assume are so blissfully happy in their religion. You've never see the fear in their eyes when they face death. You've never seen the emptiness of a life spent simply surviving. You've never seen their pain. You'd rather assume they're happy because once you see their fear, emptiness, and pain, you are faced with the task of finding out what will truly change their life of fear - and you might have to admit that the same fear is present in your own life.
      I'm not out to manipulate people or force them to do something they don't want to do. I certainly am going to tell them about the wonderful change that happened in my life. I know the answer. How tragic it would be if those who know the answer would keep it to themselves!!!! God sent his Son to earth to die to save us from a terrible end. To those who choose to accept his offer, learn what it really means to have a life of joy, hope, peace. I am not afraid to die.
      A true Christian does not follow the Pope or a list of rules made up by some person. A true Christian follows the Lord and his Word. There are many fakes who say they are Christians and do whatever they please, but few real Christians who put the Word of God as their ultimate guide. Many people have turned their backs on the Lord because of these people who claim the Lord's name and aren't even one of His. That's like turning down an offer to join a professional sports team because the kid down the street said he played for that team and he wasn't any good.
      I know for a fact that the peace I have in my heart is not present in the hearts of my non-Christian friends and it is present in my friends that are Christians. I've traveled to many different countries and found it to be true everywhere I went. I am currently a missionary. How could I possibly be so cruel to waste my life on myself rather than tell others of what I've found? Telling others is not forcing others. They deserve a chance to know! There is no greater joy than to see someone lay aside their life of fear for a life of joy.

      November 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  9. Excelsior

    "The people in these tribes are wild creatures too,"

    Wow.

    I guess somehow in that twisted, racist view this makes their previously murderous, vendetta-centered lifestyle a-okay, too.

    "Cell phones, gourmet coffee, organic supermarkets, laptops, antibiotics, "hip" clothes, Birkenstocks...great for me, but not for thee, as thou art nothing more than an animal. But then, I'm compassionate (unlike Christian missionaries who open the door to such things) so naturally I deserve to be all comfy and luxurious." Talk about your whacked self-righteousness!

    At any rate, the car is really cool.

    October 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  10. Brendan

    I actually got to meet one of the tribesman that the Elliots and Saints worked with...For all of those commenting on that which you do not know...saying things like they only are trying to get converts...the man I met who actually was involved in the killing of Jim Elliot said their village owes their entire existence to theses families and through their efforts they have been able to preserve their way of life...but its ok you all know more than they do I am sure

    October 28, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  11. steve saint

    Being that I am part of the team building the Maverick 'flying car', I don't feel qualified to comment on all of the creative comments that have been made here – but I did take time to read about a hundred of these comments and would like to offer two clarifications.

    1. This isn't Steve Saint's 'flying car'. The idea was mine and a close friend and I built the proof of concept machine about 6 years ago – but it has taken a team; including a very creative, self taught engineer in Missouri, a family business in Kansas that makes junior dragsters in Kansas, a group of passionate engineering students at Letourneau University in Texas, a bunch of unusual regular Americans who have cheered us on and have made financial and time contributions to keep Itec going and a very dedicated team at Itec – including a man who sold his equipment and retired from farming so he could help build the Maverick at no cost to Itec, and an engineering student who has given four summers during college to help, and a capable COO who has acted as the primary test pilot and others who answer the phones and make the videos (weren't the Maverick-road trip to Oshkosh videos great – thanks Dan); and several very helpful people from the FAA who believed in what we were trying to do.

    No, this isn't Steve Saint's 'flying car'. It belongs to everyone who has been part of this fascinating project – and there is room for some more of you, but it required dedication. You know what they say, "If you're in a car and the engine quits – there you are; but if you're in a plane and the engine quits – where are you?"

    By the way, if anyone can figure out how to build this machine for $30,000 or even $40,000 or $50,000 please help us out – but remember, it can't weigh over 930 pounds, and carbon fiber and other 'light weight' stuff.

    2. I think I have to set the record straight. I personally didn't teach the Waodani about God – though lots of my interaction with them has been about spiritual matters. I know it is difficult for some people to imagine, but I was never a spiritual teacher to them. They are the ones who were teaching me to "Walk 'Waengongi' tado" (God's trail). When they thought that I understood and believed that I had made a commitment to attempt to faithfully walk God's trail, they baptized me. They have been my spiritual leaders – not me theirs.

    I admire and respect the Waodani as a people group. I deplore the idea that anyone should force their outside opinions on the Waodani; whether they be Christians, or anthropologists or oil companies or just well meaning people who are uninformed as to the real state of affairs that face the Waodani – then or now. The only outside imposition that I have seen regularly pressed on the Waodani is the pressure to isolate them from the rest of the world (the 'Human Zoo'). If that is what the Waodani want, then I think their desire should be respected. But, my opinion after having relationship with them for 50 years (which does not make me an expert on the Waodani – except perhaps in comparison to people who don't know them or their culture, haven't lived with them, can't speak their language, and don't know how to live like them) is that they are fighting for their cultural and physical lives right now.

    There is only one authority that should be allowed to decide what becomes of the Waodani culture – and that is the people who have to live with the ramifications of their decision – the Waodani themselves. But, individually, every Waodani should have the opportunity to avail themselves of those services that they cannot yet provide for themselves whether it be spiritual or physical help.

    In this regard, I suggest that the Waodani have sufficient spiritual depth to handle their own spiritual needs – whether they want to go to the evil spirits or Wangongi Onowoka – the Creator's Spirit. What they haven't developed yet is the ability to meet their own medical, transportation, and communication needs. And, they don't have an economy to support their efforts to become independent in those areas.

    The development of Itec – The Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center was the idea of the Waodani from the Gikitaidi clan; the ones who speared my father and his four friends and then 'adopted' me and have been instrumental in helping me develop my world view. They said, "We don't say come and do and do for us. We say, coming, you teach us to do what the foreigners can do but never teach us to do – just like we taught you how to hunt with a blowgun and to spear fish and to build a shelter ... – now you teaching us, we will help our own people.

    Well, I don't think I am likely to change any minds about whether missionaries or oil companies or anthropologists are good for tribal people or not – but I did think that it would show a lack of integrity on my part if I did not at least try to set the record straight that:
    – the Maverick is a team effort and we still need more team members. There still are places and people beyond roads in our world, and
    – I am not a spiritual leader amongst the Waodani. They (some of them) are and have always been my spiritual leaders. They don't work for me, I work for them – when I can figure out a way to do so without creating dependency.

    (If you really want to know what I think about them, dare I recommend the book "End of the Spear"? My name is on the cover, but I can assure you I did not write the story. I just had a front row seat while the story was being written so I got to write the book.

    October 28, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  12. Nathan & Josh

    We think it is amazing that someone took the time out to make a flying car!! I am glad we are glad that he got the approval from the FAA.

    October 28, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  13. PK-JIN

    This "plane" is certified as a "Powered Parachute" under the LSA category, with the expiry date as "Unlimited". Hmmmmm, should be easy to certify.

    To everybody who seem to "diss" missionaries, their goal is NOT to JUST convert them. They ARE there to HELP OUT too. I know it is unusual for a missionary pilot to start making his own airplane, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's biting money off of supporters. Still if the money is from support money, I bet the supporters know what he's doing, or else they would have cut off his support any time.
    I, personally having lived a missionary life, know what mission aviation is like. They don't JUST carry missionaries to villages. Nearly half of their flights is humanitarian/economic aid. If there's an earthquake or a flood somewhere out there, the first two groups to react is the military and the mission aviation group(s).

    If you want to comment negatively about missionaries, why don't you first get your bodies out of your computer seat or your TV couch and actually look into these people and learn what they do and what and how, before you start typing those wonderfully negative and unnecessary comments in?

    If you have such a grudge against God, why don't you try to ask somebody about it? I bet they would help out.

    October 28, 2010 at 7:46 am |
  14. Tom

    @Derick... I agree with you... but no respectable mission organisation makes their "aid and development' contingent upon a religious conversion. Perhaps in past centuries some may have but not for many decades now.

    @wisey... Cultures are permanently altered when they are impacted upon by the outside world. The Waodani, were being shot at by oil explorers, for instance. Many missions have had the effect of preserving culture, encouraging the recording and maintaining of language. I'm not saying that there have not ever been adverse impacts, but there are many instances of positive impacts. The the people who say that tribal people are better off with their own culture and religion, I would say that it is a very unloving response by a society that "has everything" to deny people access to education, medical services etc etc. There are about a billion people in the world who have no access to so much as an aspirin tablet – and if they had access they couldn't afford it anyway. Seriously, are they better off as they are? By facilitating access, certain aspects of their culture will change.

    October 27, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  15. Lunar

    Missionaries are some of the most obnoxious people on Earth. Too bad they're too busy destroying unique cultures to realize it.

    October 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  16. Jeff

    Boy I came to the wrong website. So many illogical views it makes my head hurt.

    October 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  17. G.I. Castillo-Feliu/Rock Hill, SC

    It's HANGAR not HANGER.

    October 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  18. G.I. Castillo-Feliu/Rock Hill, SC

    It's HANGAR, not HANGER.

    October 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Ian

    STEVE: Behold! I present my flying car.
    ME: OHMYGOD A FLYING MOTHERFU- wait, where is it?
    STEVE: Over here.
    ME: With the parachute...oh.
    STEVE: Is something wrong?
    ME: No, no, it's all right.
    STEVE: You don't seem very excited about a flying car.
    ME: It's just I had a certain idea about what a flying car would look like, that's all. You know what this is fine, I guess.

    October 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  20. Reality

    Dropping the following leaflet information would do wonders for the local population assuming they can read:

    "Religion is basically inst-itutionalized false causal logic!!”

    October 27, 2010 at 5:00 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.