In the field of car development, the emergence and expected proliferation of electric cars has been one of the most common topics in recent times. Surprisingly, however, with the end of the year and the beginning of the new year, news of the development and commercialization of flying cars (and their relatives) multiplied again. It’s no coincidence that news companies have almost always been associated with some sort of startup, and very rarely associated with classic, traditional automakers. Here are the developments behind the new announcements.
One of the great questions to be solved in our modern age is how the inhabitants and operators of large cities with a growing population can overcome the obstacles to traffic. There are several solutions, such as the development of automatic underground cars, high-speed railways or self-driving cars, buses. And so are flying cars, or any descendants of these. Flying over crowded crowds is a great temptation for developers and potential buyers alike. Although we haven’t seen anything like it in everyday traffic, the idea isn’t dead, in fact! Great things are coming.
There have been countless attempts in recent decades to make a flying car that can be used in everyday life, but such has not been born to date.
However, with its technical advancement, the opportunity has come closer than ever. The well-proven helicopter is there for personal flight, they might say. Helicopter flying, on the other hand, is expensive, only available to the rich on a daily basis, not to mention the education, permits needed to fly, and the need for at least one trained pilot on board to fly the plane. What would cause a visible change in passenger air travel for the masses is either a cheap, fully automated (and thus safe) personal aircraft or a flying taxi “like” available to the general public. Jumping from one end of the city to the other in a few minutes, or getting to the train station from the edge of the city, these are really attractive development promises. Following the fantastic movies of small private flying “objects” flying over the streets en masse is not an option for the near future.
The fact that the case of flying cars (or what) is not dead is also shown by the fact that there were several exhibitions on this topic at this year’s CES, and serious companies also made big announcements on the subject last year. In personal flight, two main directions try to unfold its wings.
The first is the “traditional” fixed-wing flying car. In this case, a vehicle acting as a normal car on the ground flaps its wings on the runway and, like a traditional small plane, flies a few hundred miles with its two passengers. Powered by a conventional gasoline engine, possibly with some electrical assistance or in hybrid mode. Its spread is obviously somewhat hampered by the fact that landing requires a landing run (i.e., an airport) rather than one of them, but a solid casing due to the low-suspension wheels. Last year, to great surprise, Volvo’s Chinese parent company bought a flying car from American start-up Terrafugia. Terrafugia is one of the pioneers in this field and their first prototype flew several times. Similarly beautiful and mature technology seems to be the vehicle of the Czech Aeromobil called “Flying Car” (what else), which also has an experimental take-off permit. None of the companies are yet to sell their finished aircraft, but they are pre-ordering shipments for 2020.
Airplanes, in addition to being able to roll as a car on the highway and park in a home garage, are still just airplanes. They must have a pilot license and comply with traditional flight rules in all respects. There is no boarding or landing at the end of the street, they have to roll (or fly) to a nearby airport. In light of this, beyond being spectacular vehicles, they are unlikely to revolutionize metropolitan transportation.
Another area that is developing more dynamically is the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) machines, which are also known as “drones”. The appearance of drones still flying mostly without people today was made possible by electronics, including electric motors, high-capacity batteries, precision accelerometers, and electronic gyroscopes. Rotors driven by multiple electric motors are controlled by sophisticated electronics, allowing the aircraft to move and maneuver. Because there are no expensive mechanics, these machines can be operated much cheaper than helicopters.
And because they are better than flying cars? With enough power, these vehicles can take off and land in a fully autonomous mode, even in an area of just a few times ten square meters, and even in a densely populated big city. And to dispel some of the mistakes: with these vehicles, you don’t have to expect anyone, anywhere, anytime, to get on or off and fly. But on a so-called boundary (designated) runway, from a designated take-off and landing point like a taxi, it takes one or two of its passengers to a destination a few dozen kilometers away and lands safely there.
From the hotel to the top of the nearby shopping center. From the airport to the top of the hotels in the city. From downtown to the train station on the outskirts of the city. And this type of traffic can be attractive to passengers, as an otherwise half-hour or one-hour route can be shortened to ten minutes.
There is a lot of hustle and bustle around the development of these machines. At this year’s CES show, the German Volocopter has already done a demonstration flight. The plane was still “restrained” with a rope because of the permits, but if it had wanted to, it could have flown out of the show. Incidentally, several other manufacturers presented a working concept at the exhibition. UBER wants to introduce the world’s first flying, unmanned taxi service in the Americas and the Emirates. You probably won’t have to expect to land at any address, but will proceed on the fixed track mentioned earlier.
The Chinese-made Ehang 184 has also been introduced as one of the candidates for the Dubai air taxi service. This type is said to be over thousands of people taking off and landing. China is working hard to be among the first in this field as well.
Airbus has launched several such projects, of which their program called PoPUp promises to be very spectacular, promising a full ground-to-air service chain so that in many cases the passenger does not even have to get off the ground and then depart by air. Another program from Airbus, already called Vahana, is already conducting test flights in America. We will see as early as this year who will have the priority.
Some of the tasks to be solved are only technology. Aviation regulation will need to accelerate (or slow down) developments for these tools in the same way. As with many other similar technological developments, it is expected that a device will be ready sooner than the associated regulation. But the point is to meet sooner or later, and sooner than something unexpected happens.