Flying cars have been in the works since 1946, when aeronautical engineer Ted Hall created two prototypes of the ConvAirCar. Unfortunately, a crash landing due to low fuel caused the hybrid vehicle’s manufacturer, Convair, to lose interest and shut down the venture within a year. While there have been numerous attempts since, none have gone beyond the experimental stage. That is about to change thanks to a slew of new and established companies that are determined to make this 70-year-old quest a reality.
Kitty Hawk Flyer
On April 25, California-based start-up Kitty Hawk made headlines when it unveiled a video of its flying vehicle that will be available before the end of the year. The single-seater, propeller-powered Kitty Hawk Flyer is classified as an ultralight aircraft by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and approved for recreational flying in “uncongested areas.” Though the jet-ski-like vehicle, which can only be flown over water, is not quite the futuristic flying commuter car one would have envisioned, Kitty Hawk says they have other models in the works.
AeroMobileOn April 20, Slovakia-based AeroMobil announced it was accepting pre-orders for its namesake hybrid vehicle, scheduled for release in 2020. The sleek prototype, unveiled at the ultra-fancy Top Marques Monaco auto show, transforms from car to airplane in less than three minutes and needs just a few hundred meters of pavement or grass to take off and land. The 20-foot-long gas-powered vehicle’s foldable wings can be neatly tucked by its sides when on the ground.
The AeroMobil boasts a top ground speed of 99 mph and air speed of 224 mph and can fly up to 435 miles on a single tank of gas. The vehicle comes with many safety features, including a parachute for emergency landings as well as airbags to protect passengers in case of both road and airborne crashes. Of course, at a price of $1.3 million USD, you probably will not see too many of them flying around!
Pop.Up, unveiled by French aircraft manufacturer Airbus at the Geneva Motor Show on March 8, is a battery-operated smart vehicle that can be used both on ground and air. Airbus envisions that during heavy traffic, the self-driving pod will make its way to a docking area where a drone with four rotors will attach and airlift it off the ground. Though it sounds exciting, Pop.Up is currently just a concept and Airbus is giving no insight into when this fantastic car/airplane will become a reality.
Massachusetts-based start-up Terrafugia has been trying to build a flying car since 2006. The latest model of their fully autonomous hybrid vehicle, Transition, has a range of 500 miles and is expected to come to market by 2023.
Earlier this week, San Francisco-based Uber, which pioneered ride-sharing, joined the fray with an announcement that it had partnered with Dubai and Dallas to roll out a fleet of flying cars by 2020.
Of course, perfecting the vehicles is just one of the challenges faced by the manufacturers. They still need to obtain regulatory approvals before their inventions can freely fly in our increasingly crowded skies. In the case of autonomous vehicles, it means crafting an entirely new set of rules, which may take many years. Thus for the foreseeable future, we all have to be satisfied with our boring, but safe, terrestrial vehicles.
Resources: aeromobile.com, terrafugia.com, wired.com,reviewjournal.com