Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The race is on for flying car start ups

 The race to develop and mass-produce the world's first fully functional flying car is beginning to resemble the early days of aviation more than 110 years ago when other contenders, besides the Wright brothers, were battling to get their machines off the ground. Pictured above is the Flying Roadster from Aeromobil unveiled in Vienna last month. The race to develop and mass-produce the world's first fully functional flying car is beginning to resemble the early days of aviation more than 110 years ago when other contenders, besides the Wright brothers, were battling to get their machines off the ground. Pictured above is the Flying Roadster from Aeromobil unveiled in Vienna last month.
HIDE CAPTION
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
Off to a flying start
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The technology to give us the world's first affordable and easily pilotable flying car is almost here
  • Start-ups are already moving their prototypes forward but which will be the template for the future is up for grabs
  • Krossblade Aerospace is developing a vertical take-off and landing flying car it says will carry five passengers
  • Aeromobil from Slovakia has already produced a working prototype that was unveiled in Vienna last month

(CNN) -- Not since the Wright brothers flew the first powered aircraft near Kitty Hawk in 1903 has the competition been so intense. The technology that can give us the world's first affordable and easily pilotable flying car is almost here.

Several start-ups are already moving their prototypes forward and the race is on.

But just like the early days of flight, there are several schools of thought about which model will be the most efficient, workable and worthy of being the template for the future.

No need for a runway

"For me, it has to be vertical take-off and landing," said Daniel Lubrich, the managing director of Krossblade Aerospace Systems. "I think this idea of an aircraft you can drive on the street but you still have to find an airport for is nice, but it doesn't really solve the problem."

His Arizona-based team has developed a concept for a hybrid five-seat transformer airplane called a SkyCruiser.

Looking a bit like the lovechild of a futuristic light plane and the flying vehicle known as "The Bat" from the movie "The Dark Knight Rises", the SkyCruiser sports foldable wings and four foldable rotors with electric motors powered by a Wankel rotary engine generator.

The quadcopter concept would allow the flying car to take off vertically from a traffic jam, for instance, without the need for a runway.

First flying car to go on sale in 2015
Driverless cars could let you sleep

Once airborne, it would switch to horizontal flight, using two 150 bhp electric motors in the tail to power it through the air at more than 300 mph. The designers claim it could fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco in little more than an hour -- faster than any other drivable aircraft currently in development.

On the ground, its 31-foot (9.5 meter) wingspan can be stowed, its four rotors retracted and electric motors in the wheels can drive the vehicle along the road at 75 mph (112 kph). However, with a total length of 8.4 meters (27.5 feet), don't expect to park it on any city block with ease.

Lubrich says he envisages the hybrid could fly almost three times faster than equivalent projects; a necessary advantage in his native Germany, where cars can already travel as fast as 85 mph on the country's autobahns, with some stretches even free of any speed limit.

"I think you need to fly significantly faster than that to really have an advantage," he told CNN. "If you only fly at 110 mph, you're only going a little bit faster, you have to pay a lot more money in fuel and you still have to land at an airport.

"A flying car really needs to be optimized for flight -- if you have to drive a little bit it should only be a mile or two."

Currently its prototype, a model called the SkyProwler, has worked according to plan and the company says it's only a matter of time before it can be scaled up into five-seat, fully operational flying car.

Ease of control

While quadcopter technology is not new, the fact that it is now computer driven has changed the aviation landscape.

Lubrich explained that, unlike helicopters, quadcopters cannot change the pitch of their rotors to achieve maneuverability. Instead, the four rotors make adjustments by changing the speed at which they rotate.

"The drone revolution, with its multi-rotors, has changed everything," he said. "The very first attempts to have vertical takeoff were not helicopters but quadcopters in the 1920s and even earlier.

"They had the problem that they didn't have computers for the flight control so the pilot had to constantly adjust for the minute differences in the composition of the rotors. They were impossible to fly.

"Now we have flight computers and they do everything wonderfully and automatically. Press up and they go up, press left and they go left -- you don't have to worry about calibrating and controlling it."

Flying in from the East

Another flying car pioneer is the Slovak company Aeromobil whose Aeromobil 3.0 flying car was unveiled in Vienna last month. Dubbed the Flying Roadster, the sporty working prototype looks like a finished production model and has a range of 430 miles (700 kilometers) and a top air speed of 124 mph (200kph).

We are just so happy that we are not the only ones doing this. If we were, maybe people would think we were just crazy
Juraj Vaculik

Co-founder of the company Juraj Vaculik told CNN the quest to find a workable solution to the flying car may be in its final stages.

"This race is actually almost 100 years old," Vaculik said. "I love the pioneering history of aviation and the first attempt to build a flying car was in 1917 -- since then there have been plenty of others."

"The technology now is so accessible and at such a high level. Carbon fiber materials, high-tech technologies; 10 years ago these things were just so expensive and out of reach for small teams."

"The quality of the autopilot systems that we were able to install in our prototype, for instance, even five years ago was just an impossible dream," he said.

While the Aeromobil needs some aviation infrastructure to operate, its makers say that it has proprietary systems which make it flexible. With variable angle of attack wings, the flying car has increased lift for takeoff and greater drag for landing.

"Europe and the United States have plenty of small airfields and sports airfields, but at the same time with this prototype you don't need that. All we need is a 250-meter grass strip for take off and just 50 meters for landing."

Rules and regulations

As with most new systems, both start-ups say the biggest hurdles are likely to be regulatory and political. In this respect, Aeromobil says the MyCopter project -- which is investigating the regulatory and logistical problems with mass air traffic -- has been invaluable for the nascent flying car industry.

"It's similar a situation with many innovations," he said. "When mobile phones came in they created a completely different environment that needed new regulations and new ways of thinking."

"What the guys in MyCopter are doing is creating the right set up for how air traffic systems could be organized."

While there's some rivalry between the start-ups (Vaculik remains skeptical of fuel-heavy vertical take off models which he says need too much power to lift the dead weight of the vehicle), he says it's mostly collaboration.

"We are just so happy that we are not the only ones doing this," he said. "If we were, maybe people would think we were just crazy."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Engineer Alan Bond has been developing a new concept for space travel for over 30 years -- and his creation is now on the verge of lift off.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Crumbling buildings, burnt-out PCs, and cracked screens -- a new generation of "self-healing" technologies could soon consign them to history.
updated 5:09 AM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Discover a dancing cactus field, basketball on the Hudson River, and mind-bending 3D projections on robotic screens.
updated 1:07 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Would you live there? Design student Peter Trimble says it's actually a surprisingly good idea.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
Alpha Sphere
Singing Tesla coils, musical ice cream, vegetables on drums... and this ball? Find out how "hackers" have created a new generation of instruments.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
Technology has long learned from nature, but now it's going micro. "Cellular biomimicry" sees designers take inspiration from plant and animal cells.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Forget wearable tech, embeddable implants are here. Learn more about the pioneers who are implanting devices into their bodies.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
A visitor of the 'NEXT Berlin' conference tries out Google Glass, a wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information before your eyes. It is expected to go to market in late 2013.
We know how wearable tech can enhance our fitness lives but there's evidence that its most significant application is yet to come: the workplace.
updated 4:13 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Samsung's research unit announces new way to synthesize graphene, potentially opening the door to commercial production.
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
iRobot, creators of vacuuming robot Roomba reveal how they learned from secret experiments -- in space travel, minefields, and toys.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
A light-bulb glowing in middle of a room with no wires attached. "It's the future," says Dr Katie Hall.
updated 11:26 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
Knee replacements that encourage cells to regrow could soon be manufactured -- by spiders. Find out how.
updated 9:03 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Meet Chuck Hull: the humble American engineer who changed the world of manufacturing.
updated 9:48 AM EST, Thu February 6, 2014
The key to self-knowledge? Or just the return of the phony "mood ring"? Check out our top mood-sensing technology in development.
ADVERTISEMENT