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. Pharme476

    Hello! ceedfad interesting ceedfad site! I'm really like it! Very, very ceedfad good!

    August 1, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  2. Variable Valve Timing with intelligence

    You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually one thing which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very wide for me. I'm taking a look ahead for your next publish, I will try to get the cling of it!

    July 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  3. pink car accessories

    My brother suggested I may like this website. He was totally right. This submit truly made my day. You can not believe simply how a lot time I had spent for this info! Thank you!

    June 21, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  4. cat licking

    It's actually a great and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    April 29, 2012 at 5:03 am |
  5. mitsubishi imiev

    Simply wish to say your article is as astounding. The clearness on your post is just nice and that i could suppose you're an expert in this subject. Fine together with your permission let me to grasp your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thank you a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

    April 11, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  6. how to remove a redirect virus

    Helpful info. Lucky me I discovered your website unintentionally, and I am surprised why this accident did not took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

    April 9, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  7. Coop

    My brother suggested I may like this blog. He was once totally right. This publish truly made my day. You cann't consider simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

    April 7, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  8. dow jones

    I don't even understand how I ended up right here, however I believed this put up was once great. I do not know who you are however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger should you are not already. Cheers!

    April 6, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  9. pelvic belt

    Hi, i feel that i noticed you visited my website thus i came to return the favor?.I am attempting to to find issues to improve my website!I guess its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  10. Used 2008 dodge challenger

    You're really a excellent webmaster. The site loading velocity is amazing. It kind of feels that you're doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterwork. you have performed a great job on this matter!

    April 5, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  11. motorcycle tech school

    Hey There. I found your weblog using msn. This is a very neatly written article. I'll make sure to bookmark it and come back to learn more of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I will definitely comeback.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  12. Craig

    I have to appreciation for the attempts you have made in writing this post. It has been an inspiration for me personally. I've transferred this through to a friend of mine. thankyou

    September 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  13. kris

    How is 80 grand cheap ???

    July 11, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  14. Rachel

    This youtube video has tootage of what Steve Saints family and other went throught to reach out to these people. The people shouting about leaving indeginous cultures alone and probably the same ones first in line to get the latest technology that makes their computer a little faster or their car a little cooler. Dont others deserve the same chance to better their life and not be stuck in a state of half starvation, without medicine, adequate shelter or a chance for their children to have other choices in life?

    March 4, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  15. nzane4

    Being somewhat of an agnostic, when I see the irrational hatred of anything Christian I am inclined to investigate it further. Anything that brings about such unprovoked hated is certainly very interesting.

    December 18, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  16. JAHnoOtoko

    Great article,
    I am glad that they are finding ways to improve the lives of the Waodani tribe. They are amazing people may the Lord help them still.

    December 6, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  17. Paul D. Nauta

    Great read "End of the Spear" a must read book.. Also I back the Maverick 100% great idea (that works), and would love to have one.. I think that people that have ideas such as (the Maverick flying car),and follow them through should be praised for what they have done.. Too many of us think we have good ideas also but let them go down the drain, only to cut down the ones that made it work

    November 18, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  18. Ted

    I guess the world would be better off if they would just outlaw religion eh? Maybe bring back Joseph Stalin?

    November 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  19. Ted

    I suppose the world would be better off if they would just outlaw religion eh? Maybe we should bring back Joseph Stalin.

    November 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  20. Lee Oates

    Good car, but it is the same old routine of destroying ancient cultures, spreading intolerance and hate under the guise of a "loving" God, and preparing them for being absorbed by governments. They lose their land and cultures and usually wind up in the slums of big cities. Missionary activity is usually followed by despair and alcholism.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm |


      January 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
1 2 3 4 5
About this blog

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.