Roughly since the fantastic winged Citroën DS of the Fantomas, humanity has been waiting stuttering for the market launch of the real flying car as an affordable, take-home product. Unfortunately, to this day in vain. The film industry has raised the subject with Back to the Future, the Fifth Element, the Blade Runner and a million others, but the flying car just hasn’t come. Until now.
With the earlier concept of a car going and then stretching its wings, running up and taking off and then flying elegantly, there were countless problems, both technical and legal. I will mention just a few: on the one hand, a petrol or diesel car that meets increasingly stringent safety and emission standards is too heavy in the first place to be converted economically into an aircraft. On the other hand, folding the long wings and propellers of an airplane is quite difficult to hide in a car so that these elements are rigid enough and strong enough to fly. Thirdly, aviation and road transport rules do not really overlap; it is not really really possible to get off the road by plane in most countries, it is not really possible with a construction that requires a runway in an urban environment. Fourth, the range of eligible customers, including those with pilotage rights, is narrow enough for aircraft car developers to think in mass production.
This has been STOL so far. Despite the above difficulties, such prototypes have been made that correspond to the classic flying car idea. (In jargon, these are technically STOL, or Short Take Off and Landing, aircraft that require a short run to take off and land.) One of the most advanced models, surprisingly close to series production, is next door: this is the Slovak Aeromobil, which is still can be ordered. The prototype is already in flight, the folding wing and propeller, a propeller directly rotated in the air with a two-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, and a petrol-electric propulsion machine on the ground are regularly featured at car and air shows. With a maximum take-off weight of just 960 pounds, the two-seater Aeromobil 4.0 will probably really get there to make a few copies of it.
It’s coming now: VTOL. In the last two or three years, however, the mainstream of flying car development has taken a new direction. This new direction has been determined by three exciting technological trends. One is the rapid development of electric mobility: they suddenly became relatively light high-capacity batteries, powerful electric motors. The second is the acceleration of the development of hydrogen-based fuel cell vehicles, which is promising because stored in hydrogen can carry with it much less weight, which when stored in a battery is quite a disadvantage in flight, and on the other hand a depleted hydrogen tank can be filled faster. a discharged battery can be recharged. (We wrote more about hydrogen-based mobility here.) The third is the development of drone technology. Partly the ability to steer, and partly the vertical take-off and landing drive (VTOL) solved by multi-vertical propellers makes the flight so safe and easy that it can open the way for mass short-haul air travel. towards transport.
This new airplane concept is, of course, actually a scam somewhere. It’s not really a car that can fly if you have to, but a cabin that fits into a wheeled chassis as a car and snaps into a propeller-mounted frame to function as an airplane. The car character also seems to be lost there, these ideas no longer want to be primarily consumer products, but rather a new type of public transport seems to be unfolding.
Only a few years ago, perhaps the trio of Airbus, Audi and Italdesign started to show this solution at major international exhibitions.
Today, there are at least half a dozen such or similar developments and design concepts. Here, for example, is the latest idea from Terrafugia, which has long been present in the development direction of the former, folding wing aircraft, which is ugly for a car, but already beautiful for an aircraft.
What’s most embarrassing about this new trend, though (at least for those who, like sci-fiers, have been eagerly waiting for the flying car since they were kids) is that there’s a good chance the car part might be left out altogether. This is illustrated by one of the latest news on the subject, a joint venture between Hyundai and Uber, which was unveiled at CES. The proponents of the concept of the Korean car manufacturer and the international taxi company have realized that if we have a passenger vehicle that can take off from a place and can fly anywhere, then the round-rolled part can actually be omitted.
This is an American-Hungarian (!) Co-production, the SKAI six-rotor flying bus. Designed with fuel cells, it was designed for hydrogen operation, and to make short-haul flight even more attractive, it was secured multiple times against drowning. The plane can fly even if one of the six propellers falls out and there are three hydrogen cells, if one breaks down, the plane can still go on. But if all of a sudden everything stops, you can also slow down the fall of a parachute.
However, there may still be real flying cars in the VTOL era. The Aeromobil, mentioned above, for example, just shrugged when he saw that his previous work might be rendered completely useless by the new technology, and also made a sketch of the 5.0 model, in which the car character is still quite massive under the plane.