Flying cars 2018: will the flying car market ever take off?

8 Mar, 2018 5:18pm Joe Holding

PAL-V showed-off its Liberty flying car in Geneva. But will it help get the flying car market off the ground?

The PAL-V Liberty flying car made an appearance at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, delighting onlookers with a production ready flying car – something the Dutch firm claims is a world first.

The Liberty isn’t alone in the world, though, as various manufacturers across the globe have designed concepts in an attempt to corner the market of flying cars.

To most motorists the idea of switching congested motorways for the open skies is incredibly appealing, with many arguing that a world of flying cars would alleviate major logistical problems and congestion.

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But could it really happen? Why hasn’t it happened already? Will you need to carry breathalyser kits and a high-vis jacket if you drift into French airspace? None of these questions have unequivocal answers, and until someone comes up with a viable solution to the flying car problem, that isn’t going to change. That being said PAL-V are closer than anyone... 

What is a flying car?

Before we go any further, do bear in mind that the term ‘flying car’ can be a little bit of a misnomer. How you name these airborne conveyances depends on each machine’s main purpose: while a car that has been adapted to fly might well be a ‘flying car’, a plane that has been modified for road use is more likely to be called a ‘roadable aircraft’. However, most of the machines you can go out and buy today fall into the latter category.

The difficulty in designing and engineering such a vehicle cannot be overstated. Any flying car needs power for the wheels and a set of rotor blades, must have controls for driving and flying, and has to be simultaneously compliant with the two sets of regulations that govern motoring and aviation. Then you have to factor-in the logistics of taking off and landing, the qualifications of the pilot, the insurance and all kinds of other elements. It’s no small feat.

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Without completely reliable software to automate everything, it’s unlikely we’ll be getting airworthy hatchbacks any time soon. But it isn’t impossible and some companies are convinced that flying cars will become reality.

Scroll down to see some flying cars of the present and the future, and let us know what you think about the idea of aeronautical motoring in the comments section below.

PAL-V Liberty

Based in The Netherlands, PAL-V has taken a slightly different approach with a design that closely resembles the familiar helicopter with a centre-mounted rotor blade. But most excitingly, PAL-V revealed a model it claims to be production ready at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show and is waiting to complete full certification (something it hopes to achieve during 2019). As is the way with these things, a final product is still under development but the company produced a proof-of-concept prototype in 2012 and is confident of delivering its first models soon after certification.

In driving mode, the PAL-V Liberty should do 0-62mph in under nine seconds thanks to a 100hp engine, with a top speed just shy of 100mph. Better still, the suspension allows the body to tilt into the corners, so it might actually be quite fun on a twisty B-road.

In the air the Liberty will have 200hp at its disposal, with a top speed of over 110mph and a maximum range of over 300 miles – in the right conditions. Maximum altitude comes in at around 11,500ft, and while vertical take-off isn’t an option, landing should be a piece of cake, the machine needing just 30m of tarmac to touch down on. The folding mechanism that converts it to a car is clever, too.

Terrafugia Transition

Similar to the PAL-V the Terrafugia Transition is self-billed as the “world’s first practical flying car”, and falls into the ‘roadable aircraft’ bracket as a plane first and foremost, but with road-going capabilities. The project first got off the ground (pardon the pun) with a maiden prototype flight in 2009, but has since stalled (pardon that pun as well) in pursuit of a Light Sport Aircraft licence from the authorities. This was eventually granted in June 2016, but Terrafugia still has hurdles to overcome before a scheduled production run in 2019.

The Massachusetts company is reportedly aiming for a unit price of $300,000-$400,000 (£270,000-£360,000), and the Transition will be capable of 100mph at an altitude of 10,000ft with an estimated range of 400 miles. And that’s with conventional gasoline in the tank. With the wings furled away it will then be able to take to the streets, although little is known about its ground-going performance. Terrafugia simply promises that it will achieve “highway speeds”.

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Terrafugia TF-X

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Terrafugia would be too busy delivering the Transition to work on anything else, but you’d be wrong. This is the TF-X, and it’s the US company’s vision for what the flying car will look like a generation ahead of the one they’re currently building. That’s ambition for you.

Terrafugia admits that it has no timetable for when the TF-X will be available for purchase, but has already committed to a number of performance figures. The ‘Electric Motor Pods’ will produce 1MW of power, giving the TF-X a cruising speed of 200mph and a range of 500 miles. Vertical take-off and landing will eliminate the need for a runway, and the promise of full automation should ensure that pilots “will require substantially less training time” before they are allowed to get airborne.

Naturally there are no prices available yet, although it is anticipated that the TF-X will cost the same as a “high-end luxury” car. Bentley and Rolls-Royce, beware.

AeroMobil 4.0

“Mark my word: a combination of airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” This quote, attributed to none other than Henry Ford in 1940, is something that AeroMobil believes in. Much like Terrafugia, this Slovakian company has endured years of development to reach its current stage.

The 4.0 is its latest prototype in a quest to construct a flying car, although the firm believes this incarnation contains all of the main features that will appear on the final product.

As well as having no delivery date, AeroMobil won’t say how fast their flying car will be, what it’s range is or how much it will cost. The only clue towards the price is that it will set customers back “several hundreds of thousand Euro.” Hmmm.

That said we like the elegance of the designand that transitioning between drive and flight modes will take but a moment. 

The Maverick Flying Car

At last, a flying car that you can use right now. And what a simple concept it is too: primarily an off-road buggy, the Maverick Flying Car does away with complex folding wing systems and makes do with a parachute canopy and a rear rotor, bearing similarities with the traditional microlite. And at $94,000 (£68,000), it’s an absolute steal.

On the ground the Flying Car is agile and chuckable, and most at home on sandy surfaces. The 2.5-litre Subaru engine churns out 190hp and is good for a 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds, ensuring there’s no lack of performance when you’re confined to the face of the Earth.

In the air you’ll have to make do with a top speed of 40mph - parachutes aren’t designed for speed - but with a 17-gallon tank the three-hour flying time will be more than enough to explore the local area. The only drawback is that there are no doors, so wherever you’re flying - or driving for that matter - you'd better hope the weather is kind.

Italdesign Airbus Pop.Up

Airbus has been putting a lot of work into developing a flying car, and at the Geneva Motor Show 2017, it revealed its most ambitious concept to date: the Pop.Up.

A joint venture with Italdesign, the Pop.Up loosely expands on the Maverick (with its removable canopy) by employing a detachable capsule to accommodate up to two passengers. This can be propelled by eight counter-rotating blades for airborne travel, before landing in a four-wheel chassis for use on the road.

Each of the eight motors produces 17kWh for a total output of 136kWh (182bhp), giving the ‘air module’ a modest range of 62 miles, and even that is without passengers. On the ground the Pop.Up makes do with 60kW (80bhp) from two rear-wheel motors, affording it a top speed of 62mph and a maximum range of 81 miles.

Fully autonomous in both forms, the Pop.Up has essentially been designed as an alternative to a taxi service rather than as a personal vehicle. An app allows customers to book journeys via smartphone, and given that passengers wouldn’t have to leave the pod at any point between destinations, Italdesign and Airbus would likely make good on their promise to “give time back to commuters”.

Neither the technology nor the infrastructure is ready for the Pop.Up to become a reality in our cities just yet. Nonetheless, the premise is intriguing.

Will the flying car ever really take off? Have your say in the comments section below...

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