At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas there was another attempt at a flying car. Motoring Weekly has written several articles on this subject: simply search for “flying car” and you’ll get a list of articles with that tag.
This one is from Bell, the famous helicopter and aircraft manufacturer founded in 1935. The two most famous machines for me are the H-13 Sioux – made famous in the television series M*A*S*H and The Whirlybirds – and the UH-1 Iroquois (Huey), one of which is mounted on a frame in Nyngan, mid New South Wales:
Last year at the same electronics show, Bell showed the prototype interior and this year they had the complete machine on display, powered by six ducted fans that can move direction. These are fed by a hybrid-electric system using a classic turbine motor as the base power system. Each of the fans are eight feet in diameter and the machine is capable of 150 mph with a range of 150 miles. Bell has built a consortium of technology providers to kit out the “flying car”, known as the Nexus which is in effect is a small five seater helicopter!
The consortium includes:
– Safran for the hybrid power system,
– EPS for the energy packs,
– Thales will develop the flight computers,
– Moog (famous for music equipment) will supply the flight control systems,
– Garmin will provide the avionics and vehicle systems.
Bell sees this as an air-taxi, similar to the one that Airbus is developing with Giugiaro and Lilium who is developing one as part of a ride-share system. Technologically-wise, I think this is a great way to develop new kit that could then be used in other vehicles, whether they fly or not.
In practice though, a four-passenger machine (with a pilot) with a high price tag may not put a dent in the ride-share or classic taxi systems in play today. Logistically I think it would be even harder to set up this type of service – you will need secure space to land one and proof that using the service would be quicker than taking a car, whether it was autonomous or not. Remember the journey wouldn’t simply be a case of hopping in and travelling, there would be a whole safety procedure to work through that would add time at the beginning and end of each journey.
Now, if autonomous ride-share vehicles and air-taxi services really worked, we might see a dramatic change in the structure of our cities, where they flatten out after decades of vertical growth. New roads would be wider to enable greater vehicle flow and that would benefit air-taxis as well because they could fly above them. The other theory is that air-taxis replace short-haul commercial flying between cities and could even provide a service between a city and the outlining townships, perhaps between offices and factories.
If anyone is going to build an air-taxi or flying car, then Bell could. I would be happier to travel in a product from a storied company like Bell rather than a start-up.
Feature image is owned by Bell Helicopter Textron