They populate the collective imagination and, as an icon of the cities of the future, they almost represent a narrative topos: flying cars are linked to the promise of a more efficient, safe and sustainable mobility, capable of breaking down distances by literally flying over obstacles and traffic jams. Although Blade Runner's 2019 is already behind us, this futuristic technological challenge may soon be won, thanks to the experimentation conducted by several companies and start-ups in the sector, which have bet on the development of the vehicles, investing resources and expertise. Between patented models, experimental prototypes and projects still in the pipeline, the vanguard of flying cars is becoming increasingly populated. Here are five of the most advanced proposals in the world at the moment.
Approved by the Authority
AirCar is the name of the innovative bimodal vehicle, capable of transforming from a car to an aircraft and vice versa, designed in 2017 by the company Klein Vision, named after its founder Stefan Klein, an expert in technology and design. The model (see photo below, En) is protected by twelve patents that authenticate the transformation process from car to plane: retractable wings, folding tail surfaces and a highly aerodynamic fuselage make the “metamorphosis” possible and guarantee stability, lift during flight (i.e. the thrust perpendicular to the plane's motion that ensures its lift) and downforce in vehicle mode (the aerodynamic force that increases its grip). The first two-seater flying prototype was successfully tested in October 2019 at Nitra Airport (in Slovakia). Last January a further step forward: after more than 70 hours of flight tests in accordance with the standards set by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), 200 take-offs and landings, the Civil Aviation Authority of Slovakia issued Klein Vision with the certificate of airworthiness, which marks the transition to the next stage, the industrialisation of the means of transport. The company is currently testing a new aircraft engine, which is expected to reach a speed of around 300 km/h with a flight range of one thousand kilometres.
A promising “concept”
The London-based start-up Bellwether has come up with the electric hypercar Volar eVTOL, an aircraft designed for private urban travel. The company, founded in 2019 after about five years of experimentation in the field of urban air mobility, focuses on creating innovative means of transport that are compatible with urban morphology, environmentally friendly, with a compact profile and concealed propulsion systems, and capable of vertical take-offs and landings. After the presentation of the scaled-down concept called “Antelope” at the Dubai Airshow 2021, the vehicle soared to a height of four metres and a speed of 40 km/h. The production of a first full-size model is planned for 2023 and Volar can be marketed from 2028, not only as a private flying car but also as an air taxi.
Flying race cars
The Australian Alauda Group, on the other hand, has launched the first flying race car, Airspeeder Mk3: made of carbon fibre, it weighs around 130 kilograms and is capable of lifting 80 kilograms. Controlled remotely by a pilot in a simulator that reproduces the exact flight conditions, it can reach 100 km/h by soaring to a height of about 500 metres. In June 2021, the aircraft carried out a flight test in the South Australian desert under the careful supervision of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The positive outcome of this experiment has made it possible to organise the world's first championship for remotely piloted electric flying cars, the so-called EXA Series: four teams will compete in the three races planned around the world. The company is currently engaged in the production of ten prototypes, with the aim of extending the competition to pilot-operated aircraft.
A gyroplane on three wheels
Pal-V Liberty is the name of the flying car made by the Dutch company of the same name. The vehicle, a three-wheeler on the road and a gyroplane in aeroplane mode, boasts a flying range of about 500 kilometres, with a recorded speed of 180 km/h. The first prototype was tested as early as 2012, after a lengthy technical experimentation that began as early as 2005. The company's engineers had to find the most suitable configuration to place the rotor system at the heart of the gyroplane principle on top of the vehicle, while solving the problem of the high centre of gravity, which is useful in flight but not when driving. In 2017, Pal-V Liberty was officially launched with an online advertising campaign and three years later was certified for road use. If it passes the flight tests scheduled for 2023, the vehicle can be marketed starting the following year.
Versatility and discretion
Aska, a name that picks up on the Japanese term for birds in flight, is the hybrid electric vehicle that can function as both a car and an aircraft from the company New Future Transportation. Conceived in 2018 and unveiled to the public in concept form in 2019, this means of transport can be powered in the electric charging stations currently available and its size allows it to be parked in car parks, thus not requiring investment being made in additional infrastructure. Version 3.0 of the aircraft has been unveiled at the turn of the year 2021-2022, and driving tests and future production are planned for the three-year period 2022-2025.