I recently commented on the Chinese automaker, Geely, buying Lotus and a company called Terrafugia who make “flying cars” and I wondered if we would see an electric version.
The idea of a flying car has been around for decades and is a logical connection to road transport considering that the aero and auto industries were born at the same time and share materials and technology.
Fact has almost caught up with fiction – the two most famous “flying cars” have to be Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the AMC Matador in James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”. Incidentally both stories were by Ian Fleming and both films were produced by Albert Broccolli – subsequently many actors in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang appeared in at least one Bond film!
In the late 1950s the US Army wanted flying Jeeps and commissioned Chrysler, Curtiss-Wright and Piasecki Aircraft to develop some prototypes. The Chrysler VZ-6 and C-W VZ-7 were accepted with the Piasecki VZ-8 Airgeep going further and established the fact that the concept could work. However with the Cold War and Vietnam looming, the money went towards development of helicopters. The underlying requirement was for vertical take-off and landing – something that a Harrier Jump Jet managed to do on the other side of the Atlantic.
Terrafugia seem to be the leading edge of the modern development having been founded in 2006 with a view to develop a “light sport aircraft” – in essence a light plane with foldable wings such that it could be used on normal roads. As with the Piasecki prototypes, the company is looking at developing military grade versions and even a hybrid powered one. They have gone as far as saying that they could build an autonomous one – thereby covering many industry buzzwords! Their craft, which are more air than land based, use Rotax engines. When they are released for sale, expect to shell out several hundred thousand dollars!
With Terrafugia based in Massachusetts (the founders met at MIT), there is a competitor lurking on the West Coast in Silicon Valley (where else). The Kitty Hawk Flyer has been bankrolled by Larry Page (of Google) and is a true personal transport device – and a water device too. If you think the Gibbs Quadski was whacky then look at this one. It is designed to fly over water and you sit on it like a motorcycle although it uses an electric motor. The prototypes were shown in April and they expect to start selling by the end of the year!
AeroMobil is another player – and significantly more expensive that the two above. Based in Slovakia, AeroMobil has a product in development that actually looks like a car – with wings, three wheels and a 2 litre, 4 cylinder, turbocharged boxer motor. The question concerning where that motor came from is answered by the fact that one of the partners is Prodrive (the World Rally Champions with Subaru), in fact David Richards who owns Prodrive is on the Aeromobil Advisory Board. However, this isn’t simply a Subaru powered car – it is a 300hp Subaru powered plane! When it is on the ground it uses two electric motors producing a mere 110hp equivalent.
I would certainly recommend having a detailed look at these “aircars” – the battle over what vehicles we will use in the future is shaping up to be fascinating. Will ground transport be taken over by autonomous cars and the low altitudes be where the enthusiasts go? The next two decades are going to be fast changing!