Seems like every week someone announces a new flying car project – as if we should already be zipping back-and-forth in the sky like Back to the Future’s version of 2015 – but who is closest to delivering that reality?
Inventors and aerospace companies have been dabbling in flying car designs since the 1950s, when Molt Taylor tried to get investors to buy into his Aerocar project, and Scaramanga’s flying AMC Matador in The Man with the Golden Gun brought a realistic concept to the big screen, but it’s been all sci-fi special effects or fancy design renderings since then, with a few exceptions.
These five companies have some of the best prospects to get us off the ground on the daily commute in the next 10 years (but really more like 50). While we dream of the day that we can just take off from our driveway and lift off into skylanes, the reality is that flying cars will require a pilot’s licence and special training to operate, at least until Skynet takes over and makes them all autonomous and turns us into power cells in their giant matrix. [That’s two separate movies… –Ed.]
One of the more familiar names in the flying car business is Terrafugia, who have been promising us our flying cars for years now: first in the form of the Transition, which looks like a little Cessna that can fold up its wings; then with the futuristic TF-X concept.
The concept design looks like a submersible, and it’s a four-seater with twin fold-out wings with folding props for vertical take-offs, and a large ducted fan propeller in the back for forward thrust. The plan is for it to have hybrid power, with electric motors powering the fans and a gas engine to charge the battery for total range of 500 miles with a cruising speed of 200 mph. The flight is also intended to be fully computer controlled, so flight training would not be required.
Terrafugia’s Transition, on the other hand, is their working model and can be reserved online for a non-refundable $10,000, but where’s the fun in something that looks like a chopped-up small-prop plane? No word on when deliveries might happen for this one either, but considering Geely, Volvo’s parent company, just bought Terrafugia, there should be a fresh injection of cash, and opportunities to share development costs for batteries, electric motors, and autonomous control to speed them to market.
AeroMobil 5.0 VTOL
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AeroMobil has just revealed a fresh concept in its flying car plans, the 5.0 VTOL, with super-slick futuristic sketches to fuel our sci-fi fantasies for the next few years. The 5.0 is to denote this is the fifth flying car design concept from the engineering firm, and VTOL is because it is intended to be equipped with Vertical Take-Off and Landing capabilities.
It is pretty radical and about exactly what you envision when you think “flying car” – but that just goes to show how far off this concept is. The cabin offers seating for four, and the wings and lift props fold out from the body, while another propeller in back provides thrust. Details are vague at best, but power is electric, with a combined range targeting 700 km by the time it arrives in the next seven to ten years.
It is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but the AeroMobil 3.0 is an earlier design that is a fully functional flying car prototype, so at least they’ve got something off the ground.
The PAL-V staged a big debut of their Liberty flying car at the Geneva Motor Show, and this thing is a lot closer to reality than a lot of other prospects. The Liberty is not yet in production or certified, but it’s well beyond the design renderings and theoretical stages, with prototypes having been tested for years and the company now taking deposits for their US$600,000 “Pioneer” edition, which will be limited to just 90 units. Liberty Sport models will follow for a relative bargain at US$400,000.
The design is a gas-powered “gyrocopter”, with a helicopter-like blade for lift and a second propeller for thrust, giving it an air cruising velocity of up to about 180 km/h and a range around 560 km. PAL-V CEO Robert Dingemanse promised that the model shown in Geneva will be granted full certification in 2019, but be warned that the $10,000 deposit is non-refundable.
Audi ItalDesign Airbus Pop.Up Next
At this year’s Geneva Motor Show Audi came out of left field with a road and air autonomous transportation concept that may have surprised Audi fans, but not those following the flying car scene. The Pop.Up concept was originally shown a year earlier by AirBus and ItalDesign, but Audi offered to provide a bit of a fresh look for it and support the project with its burgeoning experience in battery tech and automation.
The concept aims to be entirely electric and fully autonomous as more of a taxi than a personal vehicle, with a two-seat pod that can attach to a “skateboard” battery-and-wheels platform for on-road travel, then separate and get hooked up to a four-prop giant drone for air travel.
Although the Pop.Up Next is purely a concept, Airbus does have a working prototype of something called the A3 Vahana (A3 being an advanced projects division of Airbus), but at this stage it is an autonomous electric eight-prop tilt-rotor winged craft with a pod that lands on skids, with no ground travel mode. Still, Airbus knows a thing or two about air transportation, has the engineering and financial resources to be a big player in the flying car scene, and the Vahana’s first successful test flight was a milestone for the companies involved.
Maverick LSA Flying Car
Okay, this thing looks more like the gyrocopter from Mad Max than one of the sleek renderings that keep getting trotted out, but it’s a fairly simple, lightweight buggy-type car with a parasail for lift and rotor for propulsion in the air. Its car credentials seem solid as it is powered by a Subaru WRX boxer engine good for 190 hp and hitting 100 km/h in about four seconds and tops out at over 160 km/h on land. To take to the skies, a parasail canopy is extended up a mast, and a giant fan propeller provide the thrust. The flight controls are dead easy, with the same steering wheel used to make turns, but a runway is required for takeoff.
The prospects of this one going mainstream are slim to none, but it has the distinction of being the first to actually be produced for paying customers – and some of them are still out there roaming the roads and skies. Although they went through several prototypes and sold a few production models to enthusiasts, it looks like the company folded up shop as nothing new has been posted on their site or Facebook page in the past few years. Maybe it has something to do with them crashing and burning in populated areas.
Bonus: Hoversurf Scorpion 3
Okay, this isn’t a flying car, per se, but rather a terrifying idea for a flying vehicle that you straddle like a motorcycle, with the drone blades surrounding you at about knee height. Exposed blades spinning at god knows how many rpm sounds like a bad idea. Bad bad bad.
But it is crazy and functional, so of course the Dubai Police had to buy one.