In 1985, a comedy movie called Back to the Future featured a DeLorean automobile that flew in real time and back through time. In many sci fi movies, flying cars or flying vehicles are featured as a mode of travel. Pretty cool, huh?
In 1940, Henry Ford predicted, “Mark my word; a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”
It’s 2020, the world is fighting to stay healthy during a pandemic, while a vaccine is being produced, and still no flying car. Drone delivery is just beginning and we are waiting for a fully automated vehicle that will drive itself. The self driving car concept is still in the testing phase. And yet…
“Mark my word;
I saw a news story of a company that is building a landing port for flying cars in Florida.
When I looked at the articles, I saw some concept videos of the flying cars. Plus, I saw a few videos of actual flight. They are aren’t called flying cars, they are called ’vertical takeoff and landing’ vehicles or VTOLs. And if they are electric, eVTOLs.
One article titled “Central Florida May Become the First Hub for flying Cars” featured a story about a -shaped vertiport being built in Orlando. In five years the vertiport will provide transportation of passengers to and from Orlando to Tampa. The aircraft will be supplied by Lillium, a Germany-based aviation company that manufactures VTOLs.
But is this really a flying car?
According to most working definitions, a flying car is a personal vehicle that provides door-to-door transportation by both ground and air.
If the flying thing in Orlando is carrying passengers, it sounds more like a flying bus. Which might be cooler.
A BIT OF FLYING CAR HISTORY
The unsuccessful early attempts at the flying car:
Henry Dreyfuss and the Convaircar, 1947
Henry Dreyfuss, famous industrial designer and the man behind inventions such as Twentieth Century Locomotive and the Poloroid SX70 Land Camera, designed a flying car called the Convaircar.
It was a fiberglass car body with four seats with an attached wing and airplane engine to the roof. In flight it used a 190 hp aircraft engine, and on the ground the car was powered by a 25hp engine. (Looks-wise, it was a car with an airplane wing bolted to the top)
Dreyfuss attracted customers and investors until a test flight killed the pilot and the Convaircar project.
Dewey Bryan’s Autoplane
Bryan, a Buick technician at General Motors in Michigan, created a folding wing airplane powered by a Continental engine. The wings were designed to fold in two places, forming a protective cage around the propeller which was the power source for the Autoplane when driven on the road.
Bryan had three versions of the Autoplane with more than 1000 miles logged driving on the road. He flew the second version for 65 hours.
In 1974, he died in his third version of the Autoplane when a warning light failed to notify him that one of the wings failed to lock into place for flight.
Henry Smolinski and the Mizar, 1971
The Mizar used a Cessna Skymaster wing and engine attached to a Ford Pinto. The Mizar was intended for production and sale for $19,000. Designer Henry Smolinski and pilot Harold Blake died in a test flight.
FAST FORWARD TO THE 2000s
As of 2020, several companies are involved in the development of flying cars. A few even have prototype vehicles.
Uber Air/Uber Elevate
In an MSN article entitled “BBC Declares Flying Cars Are Here, and It Sure Is Wrong About That,” the author notes that the ride sharing company UBER launched “Uber Elevate” four years ago. Uber Elevate says it’s building toward a 2023-launch of small electric VTOL aircraft.
The VTOL will service Dallas, LA, and Melbourne, Australia. That means carrying passengers within Dallas, within LA, and within Melbourne. Not from one city to another.
I clicked a link to the Uber Elevate website to check it out. Looks like Uber plans to take to the skies. The website title reads, “The Future of Urban Mobility”. With categories such as Uber Copter and Uber Air, it’s clear what their goal is: simplifying travel and reducing congestion through air transportation.
At the end of the Uber Elevate website is a section entitled “Our Vision for the Future.” I watched the video and their goal seems impressive. They want to use electric vertical take off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs as ride sharing vehicles that will eliminate urban congestion, and provide a cleaner mode of transportation. The video shows, VTOL’s taking off from the top of a large skyscraper, then shows people riding in the vehicle. Flying over the congested streets below.
Sky Drive, Inc.
In August, CNN ran an article, “Japanese Company Successfully Test a Manned Flying Car for the First Time.” The article included a video as well. A company called Sky Drive Inc. conducted a public demonstration on Aug 25, 2020 at Toyota Test Field in Japan. The demo of a flying car was the first in Japanese history.
The car, an SD-03 with pilot, took off and circled the field for four minutes. The SD-03 is the world’s smallest VTOL and takes up the space of about two parked cars. According to the promo, it has eight motors to ensure safety in emergency situations.
Sky Drive’s CEO, Tomohiro Fukuzana said, “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 company says they will continue to develop technologies to safely and securely launch flying cars in 2023.
Klien-Vision Air Car
So far, one of the most compelling videos of flying cars is by Klein Vision. The company posted a video this year of their Air Car. The video show a sporty car that has wings which come out and settle into place. This transforms this car into looking like an airplane. The car taxis down a runway and takes off. It is filmed flying and then landing just like a plane. But it’s also a car. This one looks like a flying car. Impressive.
The few companies that listed projection dates for flying cars, say it will happen in 2023. We will see.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF FLYING CARS
- Minimizing traffic pollution: Vehicles burn fossil fuels which produces harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, benzene, sulfur dioxide, and soot.
- Lower emissions: With a switch to electric VTOLs, there will be less emissions
- Can Travel Short Distances to Make Same Journey: While a car might have to take twists and turns to get from point A to point B, a flying car could fly a straight line. This requires less fuel.
- Frees up City Roads for Pedestrians and Cyclists: With less vehicles on the ground, it would free up lanes that could be expanded for pedestrians or bicyclists.
- Less Need for Ground Infrastructure: Could eliminate the need for roads, bridges, and infrastructure needed for car travel.
- Emissions over a short distance could be higher: Although VTOLs are efficient in the air, the ‘take off and climb’ phase requires large amounts of energy.
- Can’t carry many passengers compared to public transportation: The flying cars, will require less weight, allowing for only a couple of people on board.
- Cost: Not only will the flying car be very expensive, it will require the expense of hiring a pilot or getting a pilots license.
- Take off and Landing Infrastructure: There will have be the expense of building places for the flying cars to take off and land.
- Noise: Think about the sound that is emitted from a small plane or helicopter taking off.Multiply that by many taking off and landing in one area. This could create noise
NOT EVERYONE LIKES THE IDEA OF FLYING CARS
In a 2017 article with businessinsider.com, Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t have positive thoughts for the future of flying cars. Although Musk is a fan of flying things, he said, “It’s difficult to imaging the flying car becoming a scalable solution.”
Musk said flying cars need to generate a lot of downward force to not fall out of the sky, which will result in a lot wind and noise for people on the ground. He also said there is a rise of falling debris if flying cars get into a fender bender. Said Musk, “If someone doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you.”
Not to be a negative Nelly, but I believe flying cars won’t happen for a while.
And good thing. After teaching defensive driving classes for 14 years, I don’t believe people are ready for flying cars. They still haven’t mastered ground transportation without speeding, ignoring traffic laws, road rage, and more. Do we really want to put these people in charge of piloting a vehicle that will be flying over our heads and homes?
Hopefully, when flying cars are ready for market, the licensing standards for flying them will be stricter.
Not to mention, where are we going to be able to land flying cars? I can’t ever find a parking space at Walmart. I guess if I had a flying car, I could land on the roof.