The flying car industry has been caught in a waiting pattern between unreal promise and marketable reality for decades. But the industry may be approaching a tipping point, with three outfits set to usher in the concept – and to be clear, we’re not talking about eVTOL planes, but road-legal cars with wings or rotors – in production.
Unlike eVTOLs, flying cars actually fit into existing regulatory structures. Of the three models being prepared for the market, two will initially be sold as kits, requiring a less strenuous approval process. The $300,000 Liberty Sport, from Dutch operation PAL-V International, is being tested to be sanctioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency as a turnkey flying machine (a process that will take at least 18 months) and will require a gyrocopter license to fly. With first deliveries scheduled for 2024, the three-wheeler will offer two 100hp Rotax engines – only one of which will be used during road operation – allowing it to fly over cities where single-engine aircraft are banned.
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On the street, Klein Vision’s AirCar looks like a futuristic Italian hypercar (and will be built to European M1 standards for low-volume passenger vehicles), but at the touch of a button, the tail extends and the wings unfold from a hidden compartment. After the four-wheeled prototype gained approval from Slovak regulators as an experimental aircraft, the company began work on a second iteration, now with a 280hp aviation engine from Sweden-based Adept Airmotive. South Africa. A basic pilot’s license will be required to fly the plane, which will have a cruise speed of 186 mph and will be priced competitively with general aviation four-seaters such as the Cessna 172 and Cirrus SR22. Klein Vision’s next step will be to develop a complete, European rules-certified model of the CS-23 light aircraft, which the company says will take at least two years to come to market.
Samson Sky, Oregon, plans to begin deliveries of its Switchblade flying car in 2024, after 14 years of development. The three-wheeler offers what founder Sam Bousfield calls a Skybrid system – a gasoline engine that generates power for an electric motor that drives the propeller and another motor (or possibly two) for the wheels. Starting at an estimated price of $170,000, the Switchblade will be sold as a kit in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Experimental/Homemade category, but is designed and tested to meet more rigorous certification standards for small aircraft. Bousfield says more than 2,100 orders are underway in 53 countries.
Andy Wall, PAL-V sales manager, says the Liberty “can [operate] independent of airport infrastructure” and that its annual production could reach 10,000 units, which suggests, when the industry really takes off, some kind of free-for-all: cars turning into planes and taking off anywhere, whenever. But it is highly likely that owners will keep their machines at home in the garage and fly to the nearest dedicated airfield for takeoff. And besides, not everyone is convinced that the flying car will reach ubiquitous levels of adoption.
“There are too many trade-offs,” says Richard Aboulafia, managing director of Washington, DC-based consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory, of the flying car form factor. “It’s a niche, and a little more.” This is strongly refuted by Samson Sky’s Bousfield, who says, “I don’t see this as a niche. It’s the future.
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