Where We’re Going, We Won’t Need Roads

Jim Dukhovny M.S. ’04 reveals his motivation driving Alex Aeronautics’ flying car and how SCU impacted his high-tech career.

Where We’re Going, We Won’t Need Roads
Alef CEO Jim Dukhovny M.S. ’04 presents at Media Day at Detroit Auto Show 2023. Photos courtesy of Alef Aeronautics.

The same month Marty McFly time-traveled in the DeLorean to save his future self in Back to the Future Part II, Jim Dukhovny M.S. ’04 met with three friends (who happen to be tech geniuses), and decided to make the flying car a reality.

Over coffee with Constantine Kisly, Pavel Markin, and Oleg Petrov, Dukhovny sketched a rough model of their dream car on a napkin: A vehicle capable of functioning like a traditional car, featuring vertical take-off, and being both affordable and accessible to the general public. It was this moment that birthed Alef Aeronautics, which has since obtained Federal Aviation Administration approval to operate the flying car in limited locations and for limited purposes. Testing and development is ongoing, though Alef hopes to start production of the first model by the end of 2025.

Following his recognition as Bronco Entrepreneur of the Year at Ciocca Center’s 2023 Shark-Tank-style Demo Day in October 2023, Santa Clara Magazine sat down with Dukhovny to delve into his personal motivation behind this revolutionary product.

The following has been edited for clarity.

Santa Clara Magazine: What inspired you to enter this line of work?

Jim Dukhovny: My personal inspiration was my father [Leonid Dukhovny], a famous folk singer-songwriter and mechanical engineer whose creations are now used in spaceships. He was also a lover of science-fiction, like the works of Isaac Asimov [Foundation; I, Robot], this is where my passion came from. There’s a movie science-fiction and a book science-fiction. While I have always been more book, a lot of what I do draws from the DeLorean in Back to the Future. Our company has an interesting job to do, we know what the product is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to function, but we are creating something which is often impossible by the laws of physics. This is exactly why there hasn’t been a flying car yet. We are working on bypassing those laws.

Alef Flying Car At Detroit Auto Show 2023 Front
Alef flying car at the 2023 Detroit Auto Show.

SCM: What issues are you most excited to solve with this product?

Dukhovny: You’d be surprised by how many issues it solves. I was driving on the 101 [highway] and was thinking about how, on average, we lose 6.5 days per year stuck in traffic, and maybe in even more in denser areas like Silicon Valley. The number of cars in cities also doubles every 20 years. Imagine San Francisco with two times the number of cars it has now. It’s unsustainable, along with the amount of gas being put in the air by cars that are not moving.

Alef Founders Right To Left Jim Dukhovny Constantine Kisly Oleg Petrov Pavel Markin
Alef founders left to right: Pavel Markin, Oleg Petrov, Constantine Kisly, and Jim Dukhovny M.S. ’04.

Another issue many don’t link with our product is the housing crisis. Housing prices increase when in proximity to jobs and centers. If you substitute a Toyota Corolla with Alef’s flying car, you’re going to have the same work commute while living in a more affordable area. Our cars also use less energy than other electric vehicles because our cars fly straight instead of following road paths. Even though we consume more energy per miles due to faster speed, Alef uses less energy on average from point A to B than Tesla.

SCM: How did your Santa Clara experience impact your current career endeavors?

Dukhovny: I remember one professor, Ray Kehoe [formerly in the Department of Engineering], he had a military background. He helped me become really good at following specific commands, which is very important when you work with and report back to investors. He taught me how to do exactly what is asked of you. It sounds simple, but most people don’t actually do that—they interpret. If asked to do A, B, and C, most will do A and B-sharp. I really liked my experience at Santa Clara, I learned to effectively get specific tasks done and how to balance multiple jobs at once. I was also at UC Berkeley for undergrad which helped me work in high-intensity environments, but I didn’t learn as much skill because it was too competitive there. Way more of my knowledge came from SCU.

SCM: What advice would you give to a current aspiring engineer or entrepreneur at SCU?

Dukhovny: Don’t try to create something for the money, don’t try to create something to be a billionaire. Try to create something that will impact as many people positively as possible. When you do that, everything else falls into place. The number one thing investors look at is the potential target market. You need to make sure the target market is huge and you’re creating something that people want. And people often want something when they have a problem. You need to solve the problem, you need to want to help people. Create something that people will thank you for what you did because it changed their life for the better.

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