Prepare for take-off: flying cars edge closer to the skies (and roads!)

Prepare for take-off: flying cars edge closer to the skies

At this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, there was a glimmer of hope for anyone who thinks flying cars represent the future of personal transport. A company called AeroMobil, based in Slovakia, displayed its latest vision of a winged wonder. The good news is, thanks to advances in technology, it stands a healthy chance of reaching the runway.

Then there’s the news that this week, Dubai completed a test flight of the world’s first pilotless flying taxi, developed by Volocopter. Meanwhile Uber, the technology company that has disrupted the taxi industry, has signed deals with five companies that are developing air taxis and momentum is building.

The AeroMobil might be eye-wateringly expensive, but the market is surprisingly competitive and some big names from worldwide industry are joining the race, meaning costs are likely to fall. Here we look at how the flying car is spreading its wings, with four of the most promising models from around the world.

AeroMobil

This is AeroMobil’s fourth attempt at perfecting the concept of a flying car. Unsurprisingly, getting to this point has not been an easy journey: in 2015, one prototype crashed during its maiden flight.

In a nutshell, it’s a two-seat car and plane, which requires a runway to take off. It has an engine in the back, driving a rear-mounted propeller, wings overhead that fold away when not in use, and a two-seat interior dominated by a steering wheel covered in controls.

The Slovakian company is using an engine supplied by Prodrive, the British motorsport and engineering company. It wants more than £1m for each of its flying cars, and – unsurprisingly – says they will be built in limited numbers.

And if it flies too close to the sun, the AeroMobil features ‘ballistic parachutes’ and ‘pyrotechnic seat belt technology’. Eat your heart out, James Bond.

PAL-V Liberty

You can reserve a PAL-V Liberty today. Whether or not it will ever get you off the ground is another matter. The Dutch company behind this cross between a trike and helicopter hopes to deliver the first flying cars at the end of next year.

What will customers get for their €299,000 (£262,750)? It’s a three-wheeled, two-seat, vehicle that requires a runway for takeoff. Which means its driver, or pilot, must hold a pilot’s licence. And that means the company’s claims of being able to fly over a traffic jam as and when its driver desires is somewhat far-fetched.

Terrafugia Transition

The Transition has been around the block. In one guise or another, it has been in development since 2006. But that’s no bad thing, because the company has had time to perform plenty of in-flight tests.

It looks the most like a cross between a small, light aircraft and a car. Built from carbon-fibre, its wings fold up when on the road, there are seats for two and the engine is in the back, powering a rear-mounted propeller.

Of all the contenders, Terrafugia could fly high. It was bought by Geely, the Chinese car maker that has turned around the fortunes of Volvo.

Lilium Jet

The Lilium Jet is one of a new wave of small, wieldy jets that are able to perform a vertical take-off and landing. It is powered by two banks of electric rotors, which can be directed to provide lift or propulsion.

It has undergone a successful test flight, and is vying with models such as the Volocopter – which is backed by Daimler, owner of Mercedes – and EHANG 184 in the race to perfect autonomous, flying taxis.

Lilium recently secured $90m (£67m) in a second round of funding, with investors including some of the founders behind Skype and Twitter. It aims to produce a five-seat commercial jet capable of travelling at speeds of up to 186mph.

Verdict

As long ago as 1940, Henry Ford predicted the next great development in personal transport would be the flying car. “Mark my words,” said Ford, the man who first mass-produced the car, “A combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile. But it will come.”

However, the concept of a car that can take to the skies has had a turbulent time. Companies claiming to offer both the freedom of the open road and clear blue skies have come and gone. Technical manufacturing challenges, safety hurdles, the rules of the skies and the need for rigorous pilot training has meant few flying car concepts reach reality. That said, as technology improves and roads become increasingly congested, the flying car appears to be inching closer to commercial take-off.


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