Flying cars have been a science fiction staple for decades, first seen in the black and white 1930s Buck Rogers TV series. The film Back to the Future II depicted flying cars as commonplace in 2015, but even today there are no flying cars whizzing across the horizon or through our cities. So when will we start seeing flying cars?
As early as 1926, Henry Ford displayed an experimental single seat aeroplane called ‘the sky flivver’. Marketed as a mass-produced and affordable alternative to the traditional motor car, the sky flivver was billed as the Model T of the skies. Whilst not technically a car, this concept of a privately-owned flying machine was popular.
Next came the Aerocar, designed by Molt Taylor in 1949. The Civil Aviation Authority approved the design for mass production, but Taylor never succeeded in getting the project off the ground.
Today one model of a flying car may soon be available for purchase: the Terrafugia Transition. Certified as a light sport aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Terrafugia Transition is a two-seat hybrid electric vehicle with two separate modes: conventional driving and flight, complete with fold-out wings. Its top flight speed is around 100 mph and it can travel 400 miles before needing to refuel. It also has a ‘boost mode’ for extra burst of speed in completely empty skies of up to 10,000 feet. Although it won’t be released for years, pre-sales of the Terrafugia Transition have already been launched.
A follow-up four-seater – the TF-X – has already been announced, costing upwards of £200,000. This model would be semi-autonomous with more impressive specifications. The TF-X will have a top flight speed of 200 mph, and a range of 500 miles, as well as VTOL (vertical take off and landing) capabilities, meaning it won’t require a runway. However, this model won’t be ready for another decade: much of the Automotive technology still needs refining, optimising and testing.
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Cars run on a VTOL system would require a lot of fuel to push enough air downwards to achieve lift-off. Uber’s Elevate fleet of autonomous flying taxis would work in this way, although Elevate appears to be more like passenger drones than flying cars in the traditional sense.
A flying car could utilise two separate power systems for driving and flight but would need to be considerably lighter than a traditional car and designed with aerodynamics in mind. Standard wheels may not provide the stability for a smooth landing, so landing gear must be included.
Some of the more mundane problems with the concept of flying cars are regulation and infrastructure. Who would set the standards for flying car safety? Who would train the drivers (or pilots)? Where would flying cars land? How would they refuel? Who could afford flying car insurance?
Changing the infrastructure of how the world gets around would require engagement and investment on every conceivable level, and won’t be considered until flying cars are a widespread commercial possibility. However, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is considering allowing small aircraft with VTOL capabilities to fly in the skies of all current EU member states. These small aircraft would have to adhere to strict regulations, such as not being pressurised or weighing over 2,000kg.
Whilst it’s clear we won’t be flying to work anytime soon, progress towards the world of tomorrow is ongoing and cars that fly could enter our lives in the coming decades.