Who has never dreamed of escaping traffic jams by flying aboard their car? This is the last of five articles in which the history of flying cars is told in pictures and videos. This is a presentation of the most innovative prototype, and follows the previous articles below:
- Flying Cars: the Autoplane;
- Flying Cars: models of the 40s
- Flying Cars: from the 50S to the 80s;
- Flying Cars: the lastest models.
The Six Concepts of the Flying Car
To understand how flying cars can conquer the skies, here is a review of the concepts developed over the years by inventors—many of whom risked their lives in this pursuit, or even perished in their attempts. These six concepts will help in understanding the fascinating history of flying machines, and provide an insight into the future:
- The autoplane with wings that fold away or are removed for road use: it is basically an aircraft;
- The flying car with integrated or foldable wings: it is basically a car;
- The car that can be airborne by securing itself to an aircraft in a fixed or detachable way;
- The flying car equipped with a turbine for vertical takeoff and landing;
- The flying car equipped with helicopter or gyrocopter propellers;
- The Personal Aerial Vehicle (PAV)—with no wheels.
2007: The Xplorair Personal Aerial Vehicle (PAV)
We saved the most innovative prototype for last, even if it goes against the chronological order of these articles. This is a totally different flying car. In fact, it is neither car nor plane. Called the Xplorair, it is part of a new class of flying vehicles called “personal air vehicles” (PAV). NASA developed this type of vehicle in 2003. The photo above shows a half-scale mock-up of the Xplorair PX200 displayed at the 2013 Paris Air Show. The consortium of companies behind this prototype plans to do a flight demo with a full-size prototype at the 2017 show in Paris. Even though it will be equipped with a seat, it will be controlled remotely and fly without a pilot. The demonstration may resemble this simulation:
This personal air vehicle looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie or an animated film. And yet, it means business. It is backed by a wide range of European aerospace and aeronautical firms, including Dassault Systèmes, EADS Innovation Works, MBDA, Altran Technologies, Sogeti, Turbomeca, COMAT Aerospace, and Institut Pprime.
This machine offers vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and is powered by thermoreactors:
With these engines, it will be able to reach a cruising speed of 200 km/h (125 mph) and a top speed of 644 km/h (400 mph) at an altitude of 2,743 metres (9,000 feet). Its range is expected to reach 500 km (300 mi). The first human-driven prototype should be seen in the air by 2020. The first commercial models will likely be airborne by 2030, once all the right permits and certifications are granted. This model could cost somewhere between US$60,000 and US$120,000. Two and four-seat models are expected to follow.
This PAV is truly spectacular. While it may not be your best mode of transportation when running out for milk, it is great for long distances. In fact, it may revolutionize air travel and even replace inter-city train travel for more affluent travellers. The one problem with it is that it requires 14.7 L of fuel per 100 km (16 mpg)—and that is just for one person. Even by 2016 standards, it is way too much. But we are willing to bet that within the next few years it will be powered by electricity or alternative power sources.
As to safety issues, autonomous driving systems are quickly being fine-tuned and may become a good solution for personal and group travel within a few years. Self-driving vehicles may then be the norm.
Will these flying cars mark the end of road vehicles? Only time will tell. But if you could buy a four-seater PAV for the cost of a car and take off right from your driveway, what would be your choice?