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Race To Build The Most Potent ‘Flying Car’ Heats-Up; Is India Ready For The Revolution?

A flying car powered by a BMW engine has successfully completed an intercity test-flight in Slovakia. But is India ready for this future mobility option?

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On June 28, a prototype of the AirCar, developed by Klein Vision, completed the first-ever inter-city flight from Nitra to Bratislava in Slovakia in a record 35 minutes. This was reportedly the 142nd successful test landing of the car that runs on regular petrol pump-fuel and can carry two people with a combined weight limit of 200 kg.

In a press release, the company stated that AirCar has completed over 40 hours of test flights, including steep 45 degree turns and stability and maneuverability testing.

“AirCar is no longer just a proof of concept; flying at 8,200ft at a speed of 100kt, it has turned science fiction into a reality,” said Anton Zajac, the co-founder of Klein Vision.

The Nitra-based company is reportedly working on another model, called AirCar Prototype 2 which will be equipped with a 300HP engine and expected to have a cruise speed of 300km/h (162kt) and a range of 1000km (621mi).

Klein Vision’s AirCar. (Image: Klein Vision)

The concept of the car relies upon a dual-mode where it acts as a flyable aircraft and upon landing, it folds up its wings, tucks the tail, and turns into a regular drivable car in under three minutes.

With advancements in automobile technology, several players have entered the race to build the “perfect flying car”. Popular automobile brands like Hyundai, Porsche, BMW are already designing prototypes, while many others are looking to capitalize on the “air taxi” given its growing popularity.

On May 21, the billionaire and technology-geek Elon Musk announced on Twitter that Tesla’s high-end supercar called Roadster will have an option of “flying”, looking for a 2022 launch.

“10 rocket thrusters will be arranged seamlessly around the car,” Musk noted. “The rocket thruster-laden option will hit 0-100 miles per hour in just 1.1 seconds”.

Japan’s SkyDrive 

In September 2020, CNN reported that SkyDrive Inc., a Japanese company backed by Toyota conducted the first-ever public demonstration of a flying car in the country.

Called SD-03, the electric car is equipped with eight motors to ensure safety during emergency situations and can perform vertical takeoff and landing.

Days after the demonstration flight, SkyDrive raised $48 million from the Development Bank of Japan and other investors. The company has set a 2023 deadline for the commercial launch of SD-03.

“We want to realize a society where flying cars are an accessible and convenient means of transportation in the skies and people are able to experience a safe, secure, and comfortable new way of life,” the press release stated.

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Dutch PAL-V Liberty

PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) is a Dutch company that is involved in the development of a commercial flying car, the PAL-V Liberty.

With a two-person capacity, PAL-V’s flying cars claim to have an aerial range of 500 kilometers and a maximum speed of 180 kmph.

The hybrid car, Liberty is a gyrocopter, having rotors on top to provide lift and a separate propeller engine at the back to provide thrust. While the car can hover like a helicopter, it can’t take off or land vertically and needs a runway.

In February 2021, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) gave full certification basis to PAL-V’s Liberty, taking one step closer to a commercial flying car.

“The development of the requirements started in 2009. More than 10 years of analysis, test data, flight tests, and drive tests, led to this important milestone,” the press statement stated.

The standard model is estimated at $399,000 and Liberty will complete a final phase of compliance demonstrations before it is available to customers.

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Germany’s Volocopter

Volocopter GmbH (formerly called E-Volo GmbH) is a German aircraft manufacturer founded by Alexander Zosel and Stephan Wolf.

The company holds a Guinness Book of World Records for the first manned flight of an “electric multicopter” called the Volocopter VC1 prototype back in 2011.

The first flight lasted only 90 seconds but served its purpose as the prototype for later models such as the Volocopter 2X, Volocopter VC200, and the Volocopter VoloCity.

After more than 1,000 test-flights in Dubai and Singapore of multiple prototypes like VC1, VC2, VC200 and 2X, the company announced in December 2020 its plans to launch an air taxi service in Singapore by 2023.

The website describes the flying car prototypes as emission-free, electrically powered that can take-off and land vertically.

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Slovakia’s AeroMobil

Slovakia-based AeroMobil has been investing in automobile innovation since the 1990s. It has developed and tested several prototypes of its flying car, the most recent one being AeroMobil 4.0 that is based on hybrid power with 300 hp gasoline or 110 hp electric.

While version 2.5 concept took 20 years to develop and first flew in 2013, version 3.0 took just 10 months and was successfully tested in October 2014.

In March 2021, the company displayed the prototype’s take-off ability and a climb rate of 1,200 feet per minute, eyeing EASA certification and is also seeking certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US.

Patrick Hessel, CEO of AeroMobile, said the car will be commercially available in 2023.

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US Terrafugia TF-X

The Terrafugia TF-X is an autonomous flying car under development by Boston-based Terrafugia.

In May 2013, Terrafugia unveiled its vision for a four-seat vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plug-in hybrid-electric flying car, calling it the TF-X.

According to its website, flying a TF-X will require substantially less training time than a traditional pilot’s license or sport pilot certificate. But a standard US driver’s license would be mandatory. It would be priced upwards of $300,000.

In January 2021, Terrafugia “Transition” flying car received an official clearance for take-off by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the USA.

Now owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the company aims to bring the two-seater version to the market by 2022.

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India’s Own Flying Car?

In April, Ola, India’s leading taxi-aggregator service provider, released a video announcing the development of Ola AirPro, a fully automatic electric flying car.

The video showed a glimpse of the prototype and the makers introduced the specifications of the car that include materials like carbon fiber and titanium, all sustainably sourced from F1 cars in Germany, fighter jets from the US, and soft drink cans from “Shivajinagar”.

However, people soon realized that the video was part of an April Fool’s prank. India may have to wait a little longer to have its very own car-aircraft or maybe something even better.

Flying Cars: Are They Feasible?

Multiple prototypes have been developed and tested around the world to bring a revolution in mobility technology. Despite advantageous prospects like environment-friendly models, a significant reduction in travel time among others, there are several challenges that still remain on paper before a flying car is available in the market alongside other automobiles products.

A primary challenge remains coordination with local air traffic control authorities for inter or intra-city travel in such a hybrid car. Klein Vision’s AirCar requires a runway, unlike other prototypes that are capable of vertical takeoff and landing.

At the same time, experts have questioned whether an average person can be relied upon to drive/fly a convertible car-aircraft.


 

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