Flying cars have long featured in sci-fi films, but a number of recent announcements suggest they will hit the roads – and skies – of the real world later this year.
But are they really feasible? What will they be capable of? And how much will they cost? Read on to see whether you’ll soon be trading in your car for a flying model.
A flying car for all uses
2017 has seen an avalanche of announcements surrounding flying cars. There have been new models from Metro Skyways, Lilium and Pal-V, among others. Google’s co-founder Larry Page has even invested in a model called the Kitty Hawk Flyer (below) – and when a Google co-founder gets involved, you know things are getting serious.
At the moment, flying cars take many different shapes and sizes. The Kitty Hawk Flyer, for example, only flies over water, and is aimed at those living in remote areas. The Lilium Eagle, meanwhile, wants to be a sky taxi serving urban areas, sort of like an Uber of the skies.
But they all have one thing in common: they all promise they’ll be here very soon indeed - in some cases, as early as the end of this year.
Your own private jet
However, that’s for the Kitty Hawk Flyer, which is more similar to a speeder bike from Star Wars than a bona fide flying car. But the ‘proper’ models aren’t far behind: the AeroMobil recently became available to pre-order, with the first units planned to ship by 2020. It drives like a car on the road, and transforms into a light aircraft, like Scaramanga’s AMC Matador coupe in The Man with the Golden Gun.
“It was very important that it performed well both on the road and in the air,” says Stefan Vadocz, CCO of AeroMobil. “We’ve optimized the design so we don’t compromise on either experience.”
In the air, it performs like a general aviation aircraft, while its road handling and performance is akin to a lightweight two-seater car. According to Vadocz, it’ll fly at a top speed of 260km/h (161mph) and drive at 160km/h (99mph).
In flight mode, it’s powered by a 2-litre custom engine, while in car mode it’s a hybrid, making it more efficient. Its primary use will be for regional travel, according to Vadocz.
“It’ll be a huge help to anyone travelling around 400 miles or less,” he says. “It’s quicker than a car, and more efficient than a traditional airline because you don’t need to check in or waste time travelling to and from the airport. It can also connect unusual places that airlines wouldn’t necessarily fly to.”
One other benefit is that it’s usable in poor weather. While storms will usually mean helicopters and light aircraft are grounded, you can still drive the AeroMobil as a car, so at least you can make some headway on your journey – even if it’s not in the air.
Flying over the obstacles?
However, there are some obstacles standing in the way of flying cars like AeroMobil. As you can imagine, it’s a regulatory minefield – no authority in the world will just allow the skies to be filled with flying cars without working out how and where it’s safe to fly.
Then there’s the pilot’s license. While some vehicles – like the Kitty Hawk Flyer – don’t require a license, you will need one for any aimed at urban use. Currently, this takes about 40 hours of flight time, and about 50 hours of classroom time, at a cost of between €5,000 and €10,000 (about £4,000 and £9,000). Without one, you won’t be able to fly. Unless you know a friendly and obliging pilot, that is.
Then there’s the cost of the vehicle itself. In its initial run, AeroMobil costs between €1.2 million and €1.5 million, and is limited to 500 models. The Pal-V is cheaper, but at €500,000 it’s still out of the reach of most of us. Other companies making flying cars won’t disclose their prices yet, but it’s fair to assume they’ll be similarly expensive.
We’ll have to wait and see whether flying cars become anything more than playthings of the rich. But one thing is for sure: the future of transportation looks very exciting indeed.