OK, perhaps the last part gave it away. This is not the current reality in the skies over Silicon Valley, but the opening credits of the 1962 cartoon series, The Jetsons. And the ability to fold your car into a briefcase may not be high on the innovation agenda, but the flying car part? Now that is, of course, a whole different story, and one that has been preoccupying the daydreams of engineers, entrepreneurs, tinkering inventors and the inspired masses for over 100 years.
Ever since the Curtiss Autoplane lifted off the road in 1917 (albeit very briefly), followed by Henry Ford pronouncing, in 1940, that “a combination airplane and motorcar is coming” after attempting to launch his Flivver family plane concept, and despite set-back after set-back and decades of trial and failure, this is one dream that has repeatedly refused to be shelved. Which also makes it one of the most curious, complex and compelling challenges still to be cracked in both engineering and commercial terms.
Bu it certainly now looks as if the era of the fully functioning and commercially viable flying car is finally dawning, with more investment being laid down than ever before. Even if these elusive craft are not yet visible in the skies.
Back in March, at the Geneva Motor Show, the Dutch company PAL-V became the first company in the world to officially launch a true, production-ready flying car, the stylish PAL-V Liberty, comprising a three-wheel, Carver-style body with a gyroplane rotor on the roof. The prototype, the PAL-V One, was presented in FOS Future Lab at the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed where it attracted a huge amount of attention, and the company has already secured a number of orders for the Liberty. With a price tag starting at $400,000, this ‘aerocar’ is not going to check the mass accessibility box. And being a gyroplane, it requires horizontal motion in order to lift off, so neither is it going to solve congestion problems in city centres by simply lifting you out of a traffic jam. But it’s an inspiring first, already certified with EASA and the FAA, and complying with road safety regulations.
Taking a similar approach, the beautifully proportioned Aeromobil prototype from Slovakia offers a solution that is a mash-up of plane and car – this one dubbed a ‘roadable aircraft’ – comprising a sleek, streamlined body with wings that fold back when in drive mode. This concept requires a runway for take-off and landing, meaning no need to ever again battle your way through the terminal building – simply drive into your departure airport and drive out at your destination. However, this solution is still not the saviour of the city centre rush hour, which is one of the hot targets of another group of flying car projects that are well underway.