Are Flying Cars a Realistic Possibility Within the next 5 Years?

In 1940 Henry Ford predicted: “Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

Flying cars have always been popular in fantasy and science fiction stories such as Back to the Future and Star Wars. Many prototypes have been built since the early days of the 20th century, but none as yet have reached production status.

So is the prospect of a flying car realistic? Uber certainly thinks so with the recent news they’ve hired a former NASA engineer to help its research into the possibility of VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) flying cars.

Coming soon to a car near you?

Mark Moore is joining Uber’s Elevate division as its director of engineering for aviation; he previously explored a similar concept of small electric aircraft in a paper while he was still at NASA, saying it was a ‘potential game-changing technology’. So, just how realistic is this technology?

The definition of a flying car

A flying car, by definition, needs to operate in urban environments, and therefore needs sufficient space to safely take-off and land. Noise levels are also of paramount importance. Only more recently has the technology existed to make these goals achievable, with the advent of VTOL capabilities and electric propulsion.

The difficulties of building a flying car that is safe and with the qualities mentioned above has led to many attempts in making it a reality, but none as yet has gone on to commercially successful production.

Their continued lack of appearance that was so often predicted by futurologists has led to the catchphrase, “Where’s my flying car?”

Uber have employed the help of a former NASA engineer to help with flying cars

The history of flying cars

Probably the first attempt at a flying car was the Curtiss Autoplane in 1917. The car’s engine drove a propeller mounted on the back of the vehicle. It never truly flew, but did manage a few short hops!

In 1926 Henry Ford displayed an experimental single-seat aeroplane called the ‘sky flivver’. It wasn’t really a flying car and was abandoned when it crashed, killing the pilot. But it did attract the attention of the public into the possibility of a mass produced, affordable flying machine that could be made and maintained just like a car.

In 1946 Robert Fulton developed the ‘Airphibian’. Instead of adapting a car for flying, he adapted a plane for the road. Known as a roadable aircraft, the wings and tail could be easily removed in only 5 minutes to convert the plane into a car. It was certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, but the project never found a financial backer.

Unfortunately, these early pioneers never managed to develop a viable flying car, however they proved it was a distinct possibility. With advances in lightweight materials, new propulsion methods and VTOL capabilities, there may well be a flying car in a garage near you in the very near future.

Modern developments

Terrafugia was founded in 2006 by five MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) graduates. It has already produced the ‘Transition’, which they are calling the world’s first practical flying car.

It is a folding-wing, two seat ‘roadable’ aircraft, which will run on unleaded automotive petrol, and convert between flight and drive modes in under a minute.

The same company has also announced the TF-X, an all-electric vehicle with VTOL capabilities and computer controlled flight. It will have a range of 500 miles and the batteries are rechargeable by the engine.

In Slovakia, AeroMobil is currently testing its newest prototype, the AeroMobil 3.0. It is built from advanced composite materials and has variable angle of attack of the wings that significantly shorten take-off distances.

It has featured in worldwide media and has a striking blue and white design, is the length of a luxury saloon car and can be parked in a regular parking space.

Alongside this is the Xplorair PX200. This is a French project of a single-seat VTOL aircraft; it has an innovative propulsion system consisting of an array of small jet engines called thermoreactors. This ejects gas at great speed on the upper surface of the wing creating lift.

Back to earth!

So it’s clear that your daily commute tomorrow isn’t going to involve soaring above the busy roads in your flying car, but there are plenty of new technologies available to speed you on your way.

Autonomous or self-driving cars, that are capable of sensing their surrounding environment and navigating without human input are now a reality, thanks to the likes of Tesla and the Google self-driving car.

Current developments include things such as Google’s self-driven cars

Technological advances such as hybrid and electric vehicles, along with connectivity, are all driving the future of the automotive industry. But if you are simply tired of driving yourself, why not sit back and relax in the back of a luxury car and let a chauffeur driven service do all the hard work for you?

Image credit: Arnold Lee, Billy Brown and Travis Wise

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