When you think of a flying car, imagine a car that takes off in the middle of the street and hovers over the city. it’s something science fiction movies have been obsessed with since the genre existed. more importantly, people have been trying to make this fiction a reality for over a century now.
futurologist of the middle of the 20. The early twentieth century predicted that flying cars would be available by the end of the 20th century. And yet we have not seen any significant signs of it. At least not yet. Let’s find out why.
A brief history of flying cars
In the early 20. In the 19th century, people saw flying cars as the answer to better transportation options. even when cars were just becoming available to the public, the lack of a competent road network led people to fantasize about flying cars.
Intrigued by this idea, glenn curtiss, founder of the u.s. aircraft industry, built the very first prototype of a car-plane hybrid in 1917, called the curtiss autoplane , which is shown below. The prototype could take off from the ground, but not fly. Thereafter, many prototypes were built and tested, but could not obtain approvals for mass production.
Later, in 1946, the american inventor robert edison fulton jr built. The fulton airphibian . It was the first flying car prototype to receive safe flight certification from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). However, due to the enormous manufacturing costs, it never made it to the production phase.
Since then, numerous companies and government organizations have invested in the development of a flying car, but few have been able to develop working models that function as both a car and a plane.
Current working models of flying cars
the current working models of flying cars can take off and land on a runway – just like an airplane – while they operate as normal cars on the road. They have folding wings that retract for road travel and unfold for flight.
Successful prototypes include the aeromobile 4.0 , the small vision aircar , the PAL-V liberty and the terrafugia transition . The last two models have already acquired certifications and are available for purchase. And the rest have completed numerous test flights and are expected to appear soon.
Challenges in building a flying car
Despite the existence of working models, none of them has a design suitable for mass production. This is because the development of such a dynamic vehicle presents many complicated challenges. A flying car must achieve two core goals: fight friction by accelerating forward and fight gravity by taking off.
Therefore, both problems require different solutions. Trying to combine the two has led to impractical and uncertain designs. Many existing models have exposed flying parts and sensors, making them fragile and vulnerable to adverse conditions.
An ideal flying car should take off and land vertically, without needing a runway, and function on the road as any normal car would do. This takeoff and landing (TOL) mode is referred to as vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) mode.
A VTOL aircraft needs tremendous power for takeoff, a lightweight body for air travel, and a robust structure for road travel. Some solutions being explored include carbon fiber composites to reduce weight and high energy density batteries to pack more power than a normal battery of the same size.
Apart from the lack of design solutions, safety is another major concern. A malfunction in an aircraft can lead to a catastrophe with significant fatalities. And considering that flying cars hover just above cities, there is an increased threat to passengers and the people below them.
Therefore, flying cars must withstand adverse weather and road conditions to avoid civilian casualties. In addition, obtaining safety certifications from both road and aviation authorities is a challenge in itself.
If flying cars were to become available for commercial use, each person driving them would need a license in addition to a regular driver’s license private pilot license (PPL) need. And even then, there is an increased risk of accidents due to human error.
3. Ethical and environmental challenges
With increasing environmental concerns, sustainability has become an important priority. And flying cars must fit this narrative if they are to become mainstream. Due to their enormous energy requirements, flying cars may contribute to climate change. even if we use electricity instead of fuel, the toxicity of used batteries remains a problem.
In addition, flying cars also generate loud humming noises. This will negatively impact surrounding wildlife – potentially upsetting the ecological balance – and could cause disruption for local people.
Another major challenge is the protection of privacy. For example, a stranger circling his flying car over your garden at 3 a.m. would not really please any of us. To deal with such situations, new regulatory rules and guidelines are needed, including restricted flight zones and times and carefully planned flight routes.
Shifting the focus to VTOL aircraft
At the moment, producing a functional and safe flying car that performs well both on the road and in the air is simply not feasible. So, for now, technology companies are dropping the road part of the equation and focusing solely on the air part. This brought VTOL aircraft into the spotlight. VTOL aircraft are air mobility vehicles that take off and land vertically, but do not have road capabilities.
In contrast to flying cars, the manufacture of a VTOL aircraft is possible. Giving up road capabilities will make it much easier to obtain safety certifications from aviation authorities. Apart from the design, all the challenges of flying cars also apply to VTOL aircraft.
In the last decade, several companies, including joby aviation, boeing, uber and toyota, have invested in building evtol aircraft. These vehicles are powered by electricity and automated to reduce the likelihood of human error and increase safety.
Ideally, they can do everything a self-driving car can do, except in the air. if successful, evtol aircraft will be used as public and private mobility vehicles. However, there is still much to be done before they are finally available to the public.
When will flying cars be ready for the public??
When cars first became mainstream around 1900, they created huge industries that changed our standard of living forever. But the change was not easy. It took decades of innovation to make cars affordable for the average person. Something similar must happen with flying cars.
Building a vehicle for experts and trained professionals is one thing and building a vehicle for the general public is quite another. If flying cars are to become a reality, they must be relatively easy to operate, reliable and, above all, safe to drive (and fly)!) be.
Unfortunately, the technology needed to produce a true flying car that works on land and in the air does not exist in today’s world. And even if that were the case, we would still have to address a dozen other major concerns before they can become mainstream.
The lack of infrastructure, the need for new regulations, the environmental impact, the uncertainty of public opinion, the noise pollution and so many such problems await us. although there are some working models of flying cars, their safety and reliability are still questionable.
Nevertheless, we are indeed making progress. Evtol aircraft will be available to the public in the coming decade. And as is the nature of technology, they will become cheaper over time as demand increases and mass production lowers unit costs. Although calling them cheap would probably still be an exaggeration.