CEO Sit Down: Justin McAfee on Wright One Inc.

Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a car?

For us mere mortals, thinking about riding around in a flying car is absurd. For Justin McAfee, it is a radical, yet feasible idea. When I first heard about his company’s concept to shake up the way that we transport ourselves, I knew that I had to hear more. Justin is a passionate entrepreneur, who has had an interest in flying since he was just 12 years old. His incredible drive and eagerness to change the world has led Justin to starting his company Wright One Inc. I look forward to the day that I can use Justin’s technology myself- flying to my favorite restaurant with friends and returning back home before the sun sets. Have I peaked your interest? Then you should continue reading.


Justin! Tell us about yourself!

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Hello, you don’t know me, but you will soon.

I’m the guy who wants to change your perception of flying and change the way we think about e-mobility in the future. Wright One, Inc. is a company bringing Jetson grade engines to reality by rethinking the way we consider thrust applications for air travel tomorrow.

I come from an aviation background with five pilot ratings and more travel horror stories than I’d like to recount. I have a mechanical engineering degree, and a sure path to prototyping to get us towards the flying car faster. Wright One, Inc. is paving the way into an era built for the Jetson’s!

“Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.” 

“In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

I graduated from college with a bachelors of science in mechanical engineering after 6 years of undergrad schooling and transferring twice- once I left for personal reasons, the second I failed out of engineering and transferred to another university to complete my mechanical engineering degree. It was my final transfer to Mercer University where I started to really dive into entrepreneurship and pitched a business which got the attention of a graduate professor. This happen chance meetup led me to the skill of commercialization which I am continuing to refine to this day not only with Wright One, but also with 2bird Masks!

Screen Shot 2021-01-06 at 9.08.08 PMThis business I pitched never took off, but the education I received solidified my love for entrepreneurship. I also started to learn about the power of constant adaptation and change.. “I remember when the dean yelled at me, saying “You can’t take anymore grad level classes unless you’re in the MBA program.” I’d been taking them for three semesters without an issue. On top of that, I was taking courses at two separate campuses (an hour and a half away from each other) to attend weekly classes. I wanted to take these courses so badly I took 18 credit hours at one campus and then added my independent studies from the separate campus on top of my courses to take these classes. If you want something bad enough you are going to have to work to achieve the goal, because no one is going to hand you your goal on a silver platter, you are going to have to take it for yourself!

I have personally started four businesses, and only one of them has been successful thus far – my photography company, Justin McAfee Photography (jusmcafeephoto.com). This doesn’t mean I don’t give up with a dying business, it means I continue to push harder and seek to understand what went wrong with each iteration of starting a business. Then use the knowledge to build the next opportunity forward.

What was the inspiration behind Wright One, Inc.?

I have been working on the idea of Wright One, Inc. for over a decade, since I was 12 and started talking with my father about the idea of magnetically levitating cars. This was also the same year my father took me flying in our twin engine Piper Aztec and I nearly crashed the plane into Lake Conroe near Houston, Texas doing 45 degree steep bank turns. I can also remember the serial number of the airplane as N54259 – this number has been my favorite number ever since (my second favorite number is 3).

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This was the very first airplane I think my family purchased back in Houston, Texas in 2000 or 2001? You would have to ask my mom about it… notice the tail number.

Wright One, Inc. is a company focused on industry development of future flying mobility solutions. As a company we know there is going to be huge technological leaps geared at developing ‘flying car’ solutions. But we don’t think the ‘car’ aspect of the vehicle (where you drive on a road) will be the end-all solution. What’s more, we believe people would rather have a strict vertical take off or landing (VTOL) solution where you fly directly to your home and land in the driveway (think of a helicopter landing in your driveway) based on customer interviews and based on the versatility of the helicopter. Wright One, Inc. intends to be the core of how the development of the flying car ecosystem begins.

Some Background

When you look at the aviation industry and the way people are traveling you begin to see a fractured element. There needs to be a more customized and sophisticated logistics approach to air travel for the common person. Traveling in bulk containers across the nation are becoming crowded and cities are developing at a quickening rate to catch up with our travel system. You can see this fracture at dense metropolitan airports like Dallas/Fort Worth International, JFK International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Instead of flying from a small city to a dense airport to fly to another hub and then to another small city, we need to cut out the middle two locations to not only make it more convenient for traveling but also more efficient from an energy standpoint.

In my opinion, the engine is the key to kicking off this spur in future development for more customized flying vehicles. The engine is the reason why we need to rethink how we, as a society are going to think about VTOL and flight possibilities. Currently there are 4 manufacturers that specialize in making these engines for our current mode of transportation. This isn’t going to sustain the innovation rate that is going to be needed for things like space travel to Mars, commercial drone shipping across the country, and my personal favorite super-sonic flight across the globe for one person. We need to have more choice in the engine solutions we can model to our vehicles. That’s where the Orville comes in, this is where this engine will radically start to change the way we think about propulsive devices for the future.

So here is the (multi)billion dollar question: how do you design an engine for future mobility solutions which has ALL the benefits of current combustion engines but has the added value of being able to configure itself to have the best efficiency across multiple points of operation in flight?

Let’s talk about our first product, the Orville, a bit.

This is where Wright One, Inc. is playing. We are changing the way we fly with the Wright Turbine.

Our turbine has a number of advantages :

  • 100% electric
  • Silent
  • No central shaft – less weight, more surface area, and greater thrust

This means for future engine operations, not only can we give you the power you need optimally for cruise flight, but we can also give you the exact amount of power you need for take-off and landing situations as well (whether this is vertical take-off or a rolling take-off).

Go wild – you deserve it, we all do!

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This is one of my favorite photos from the Alaska seaplane trip my dad and I did in 2019 for my birthday. We went to Alaska for 3 or 4 days and got our seaplane rating during that time.

Who are some entrepreneurs that you are inspired by?

It may come as a shock, but I am incredibly inspired by the Wright Brothers. They lived in the days of great titans like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford.

The Wright Brothers fought tooth and nail through patent issues to have their aircraft design be the first one for controlled powered flight. The ideology for being able to make the impossible possible is where my inspiration from the Wright Brothers came from. This is what drove me through my 6 years of engineering school, what drove me to keep pushing after a failing company, and to start a photography business after getting fired from my engineering company and take it to 6-figures within one year with the help of key partnerships.

Entrepreneurship is a beautiful endeavor and is not for the faint of heart. You have to have an exceptionally strong passion for the product you are delivering and you must be in it for the long haul once the business launches. There are no shortcuts in this process.

Stories like these titans and how they got started are inspirations for me, Elon Musk is definitely in that ballpark. Elon Musk did an interview with 60 minutes where he teared up talking about Neil Armstong speaking vehemently against private space companies launching rockets in 2012. Are you going to push past your fears and stand on the shoulders of giants before you?

My father has been a huge source of inspiration for me with Wright One. His passion for flying and for engineering not only set me on a course for Mechanical Engineering when I was thinking about my major, but also got me a job as an airplane mechanic at the age of 16 with a mechanic at our home airport in Burleson, Texas. Since then my family has had 7 aircrafts which we have churned through selling and upgrading to the current one the family has now, a G58 Beechcraft Baron. 

I remember one time where my father and I were flying back from a ski trip where we started in Denver, Colorado. We were taxiing onto the runway and the airplane literally fishtailed as we turned to get lined up. This was a towered airport so we had clearance to take off, but the wildest thing was the runway was completely covered in snow. Once we got up into the air we encountered a super-cooling event where 3 inches of ice began to build up onto the leading surfaces of the airplane. The airplane was ‘so proven’ that the airframe was able to not only take the 3 inches of ice, but made short work of getting rid of the ice even after the event that we didn’t have to stop and wait for the storm to pass.

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This is my dad, the most gutsy pilot imaginable. He has taught me never to stay down. Always get back up and keep fighting, no matter the cost. Always believe in yourself and never let someone crush your dream.

Here we are in two of the airplanes we have owned in the past. The left airplane is a C172 Turbo and the airplane on the right was a Cessna TT-x a composite built aircraft (fastest prop plane on the market at the time flying at over 270 MPH).

I want the freedom to be able to go anywhere, at any time. And I want to be able to do it cheaply with a proven technology. The Orville engine is the first step to realizing this dream, currently operating a Cessna 172 with a glass cockpit is $160 an hour – flying at around 150 mph. For the common person this doesn’t make sense taking into consideration the amount of time and money it takes to get a pilot’s license. We can do better for the 21st century and beyond. The first thing to make air travel, flying cars, a reality – is driving down this hourly operating cost (for a vehicle it’s between the $30 and $50 mark currently).

What has been the biggest challenge in starting Wright One, Inc.?

The biggest challenge we have faced as a team has been structuring the company and getting the math to confirm the concept’s feasibility. We are creating new mathematical models to model the engineering behind the Orville engine. Merging two mature technologies to develop a novel iteration. Nothing groundbreaking, this is just the next step in technological development.

There currently is no text or proven concepts that tie together the mathematics which we are doing with a turbine and an electric motor. They are proven separately, but conjoined the mathematics shape out differently and as a team we realize we are going to need some highly specialized aviators to help confirm this type of math. 

We recently were approached by a venture capitalist here in Boston to start the conversation of working with Wright One, and as the VC was sitting there chatting with me about how we are going to put the engine onto his very light jet body and retrofit some of the components to make the concept work even better he started to realize just how early stage the Orville was currently. This was when he started talking about his team, which comprises four of the SR-71 Blackbird team who formerly worked for Lockheed Martin’s famed skunk works to give you the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft. A record which has been unbroken since its inception in 1966.

One of the engineers is wanting to help us develop the math and the concept to bring you the engine we promise. One which can take on the current jet engine and bring you the next wave of technological innovations!

What do you find interesting about new technologies, like the one you are working on?

The potential.

But if you look at new technologies, a perfect example is the Detroit Auto Show every year. There are new technologies featured every year which capture the imagination and attention of consumers the world over for what is ‘to come’ and what is already here!

The problem with the auto show is the novel technologies don’t really have a plan forward. They show what could possibly be in the industry, but what could become in the future might take in what BMW recently released with their 100 year vision concept vehicle. Meaning that the concept vehicle would be the vehicle which ‘would be released’ (most likely will look significantly different because of market conditions) by BMW 100 years in the future. Another vehicle that is a perfect example is the famous Audi vehicle which was portrayed in i-Robot with Will Smith.

Why can’t we have that car today?

Of course, having been working in the auto industry I can say it’s not as simple as saying let’s design, package and ship it, suppliers don’t want to make a huge jump forward in technology because of the untested materials and huge cost to testing which would need to take place and manufacturers can’t promise that vehicle because if they did, they would be staking their brand equity to push production for the vehicle at such a breakneck speed. Incremental innovation here is the name of the game. Have a product ready for market and push your vision further with scheduled ‘freeze points’ bringing a product to market. Then watch as your competition struggles to keep up with the pace of new technology your company is constantly bringing to market.

So, we get stuck with incremental innovation and this allows for companies to educate (manipulate) customers into future mobility solutions where you know how to use the product over time. Think Apple and their tech hub system. They started with the iPod and now they have the iPhone, iPad, Macbook Pro, Apple TV, and AirPods all seamlessly working together to bring you entertainment, health services, and a platform to share your creativity with the world. That’s their “Why” as Simon Sinek discusses.

What have been some of the most rewarding moments in your journey with Wright One, Inc.?

The most rewarding part of my journey working on Wright One, Inc. has been working steadily through the process of building the business from the ground up. I’ve done this before with my own photography business, Justin McAfee Photography, and the reward of building the company over time was incredibly fulfilling because I got to see people’s faces directly impacted by my work. But one of the most fulfilling moments was getting to see clients’ faces when I gave them something tangible, like a photo album or a photo print.

The tangibility is what I find to be the most rewarding in the journey. Something people can see, touch, feel, and experience. You can take all of my money in the world, but if I get to see the way that my products impact society on a global scale, I will have achieved a life dream of mine. Change my mind, I dare you.

What is your ultimate goal- blue sky dreams- for the company?

My ultimate goal for Wright One, Inc. is for you – for anyone to be able to travel 7500 miles away for breakfast in the morning and be back in time for lunch. Forget flying cars, what about an affordable supersonic craft for agile, rapid, personal transportation.

More than 100 years ago, everybody said humans would never fly. The Wright brothers set out and proved them wrong. Now, I’m doing the same thing with Wright One by building the first commercially viable flying car with a first of its kind electromagnetic turbine. Most people scoff when I say that, picturing something out of the Jetsons. “Flying car” is almost shorthand for pie-in-the-sky technology we’ll never see in our lifetime! We used to dream of the stars, but technology has only given us social media addiction and increasing isolation. But what if things could be different? What if you could hop in your car, push a few buttons, and fly off to see your friend on the other side of the country, before coming back in time for lunch? With Wright One, we’re bringing the boundless optimism of the space age coupled with the limitless potential of the open sky, directly to your morning commute.

Yes, this means I want to create a flying vehicle, something which you can fly yourself with no expert knowledge, no specialized training, an hour and a half, halfway across the globe to go experience breakfast in new, breathtaking locations.

What does the future of flying look like to you?

For me to answer this question, I think the best thing for me to do is tell you about what flying from a general aviation standpoint looks like.

Let’s say that you want to take you and your 3 best friends to a BBQ place which is 20 minutes flying time (about 60 miles away) south of your current location. Here are the steps which it would take for you to get there:

  1. You and your friends get into the airplane 
  2. You get the weather at your current location and you taxi to the runway (this does not take prior planning – this can be completely on the spot, no pre-planning called a ‘visual flight rating’ clearance)
  3. You take-off and fly to your destination (you don’t even have to communicate with anyone in the air – just the tower at your destination after taking off)
  4. You land
  5. You enjoy BBQ – and at the restaurant I am thinking about, they come pick you up on the tarmac after you land in a golf cart to take you back to the restaurant

Compare this to traveling commercially, how much time do you spend in line dealing with customs… getting to your airplane’s gate. The experience is night and day. The stress is night and day. For the 21st century, traveling should be significantly more stress free, no matter the distance.

So now, I want to answer the question of what does the future of flying look like for me? It looks like driving today. Common place, convenient, and boring. The only difference is that flying will be much more stress free than driving on roadways of today. This is because of the amount of space we have in the air to utilize versus the billions of taxpayer dollars we spend yearly to keep up the infrastructure of our roadways.

Last question, do you believe we will live in a Jetsons world eventually?

12066894I get asked this question all the time, and I guess it’s warranted. I typically answer on the spot saying my concept engine is like the Jetsons’ vehicle because it’s the easiest way of framing the conversation in saying this is a GIANT leap forward in turbine technology.

But really, I adjusted a couple of things and came up with a design which makes the current design obsolete. It happens everyday with mature technologies like the jet turbine. We need an electric equivalent. Thing is, when will the public be ready to fly in an all-electric airplane? Only you can help me answer that question!

Star Wars has single handedly birthed a number of technologies just because of things which were seen on set.

This is the remarkable thing about humanity and one thing I love so much about being human. We are able to connect dots which aren’t supposed to connect. We are in essence the very ‘x’ factor which machines, artificial intelligence, tend to avoid. Don’t forget that when you are afraid a robot may be taking over your job in the future. 

Will we live in a Jetson’s World eventually? My answer is no, we will live in a world inconceivable and 100x better than the Jetson’s World because there are people like you, reading this blog post and making connections which aren’t supposed to be made.

Go make something! And tell me about it!

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