The Flying Car

Dr. S. S. Verma, Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal, Distt.-Sangrur (Punjab)-148106

2017-11-04 06:57:30



The flying car is something born out of necessity. This is about easing congestion in big cities. We have tried expanding the roads, built flyovers, constructed underground railway systems, and recently concepts such as ride-hailing and ride-sharing have also been popularized  but the menace of traffic congestion grows unabated. Cue a new revolution in travel by air – but crucially, this has nothing to do with airports. It's partly about re- inventing something we already have to help solve this problem – the helicopter. Expensive, noisy, fuel-inefficient and with high emission levels, as a modern urban mobility vehicle the helicopter has no future. Apart from being used for sporadic urban commutes by the affluent, helicopters are rarely used for mobility purposes. Clearly there is a need for an aerial vehicle that can efficiently utilize the urban airspace for future mobility. This gap could be filled by flying cars.  Flying car fantasy from  past science fiction stories about vehicles capable of transforming from driving on wheels to going airborne within a matter of seconds is turning out to be a reality in very near future with all the efforts put by many automobile industries all over the world.  It is supposed to be the best of both the worlds that could give the flexibility to avoid traffic jams as well as cover long distances in air as well as on the ground.

The flying car was and remains a common feature of conceptions of the future, including imagined near futures such as those of the 21st century. A flying car is a type of personal air vehicle that provides door-to-door transportation by both ground and air. The term "flying car" is often used to include roadable aircraft and hovercars. Many prototypes have been built since the first years of the twentieth century, but no flying car has yet reached production status. Recent years have seen a shift away from those original visions of a flying car future filled with vehicles transitioning seamlessly between land and air. The move to eliminate wheels from flying car designs may have to do with focusing on ensuring efficient flight.  A vehicle with both wheels and ground mobility drive train means a heavier vehicle that requires more engine power and fuel to go airborne. The heavier weight would also restrict how far a vehicle could fly before requiring some form of refueling. Still, the majority of recent projects aimed at enabling a flying car future have focused on creating the equivalent of a more efficient and quieter helicopter, rather than creating a helicopter with wheels. Many companies prefer to completely avoid using the term “flying car” in favor of talking about air taxis and passenger drones. In their minds, where they’re going they won’t need roads.

Early developments

In 1926, Henry Ford displayed an experimental single-seat aeroplane that he called the "sky flivver". The project was abandoned two years later when a distance-record attempt flight crashed, killing the pilot. The Flivver was not a flying car at all, but it did get press attention at the time, exciting the public that they would have a mass-produced affordable airplane product that would be made, marketed, sold, and maintained just like an automobile. The airplane was to be as commonplace in the future.  In the period between 1956-1958, Ford's Advanced Design studio built the Volante Tri-Athodyne, a 3/8 scale concept car model. It was designed to have three ducted fans, each with their own motor, that would lift it off the ground and move it through the air.  In 1957, Hiller Helicopters was developing a ducted-fan aircraft that would be easier to fly than helicopters, and should cost a lot less. Hiller engineers expected that this type of an aircraft would become the basis for a whole family of special-purpose aircraft.  In 1956, the US Army's Transportation Research Command began an investigation into "flying jeeps", ducted-fan-based aircraft that were envisioned to be smaller and easier to fly than helicopters. In 1957, Chrysler, Curtiss-Wright, and Piasecki were assigned contracts for building and delivery of prototypes. They all delivered their prototypes; however, Piasecki's VZ-8 was the most successful of the three. While it would normally operate close to the ground, it was capable of flying to several thousand feet, proving to be stable in flight. Nonetheless, the Army decided that the "Flying Jeep concept was unsuitable for the modern battlefield", and concentrated on the development of conventional helicopters. In addition to the army contract, Piasecki was developing the Sky Car, a modified version of its VZ-8 for civilian use. In the mid-1980s, former Boeing engineer, Fred Barker, founded Flight Innovations Inc. and began the development of the Sky Commuter, a small duct fans-based VTOL aircraft. It was a compact, 14-foot-long (4.3m) two-passenger and was made primarily of composite materials.

Modern developments

The technology to build flying cars already exists, and working prototypes are frequently appearing. A practical flying car would have to be capable of safely taking off, flying and landing throughout heavily populated urban environments. However, to date, no vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle has ever demonstrated such capabilities. To produce such an aircraft would require a propulsion system that is quiet, to avoid noise complaints, and has non-exposed rotors so it could be flown safely in urban environments. Additionally, for such aircraft to become airborne, they would require very powerful engines which would create huge and concentrated downdrafts. Many types of flying car technologies are under developmental stage at prototype level and few of them are mentioned below.



Company (s)




The Black Knight Transformer

Advanced Tactics (USA)

Hybrid flying car design which can drive like a truck and fly like a helicopter with eight aircraft engines and propellers enabling vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight tests. Prototype has four wheels and a ground mobility power train for driving at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.



Roadable aircraft

Terrafugia and Aeromobil

developed and even flown flying car prototypes known as “roadable aircraft” that resemble light aircraft capable of folding up their wings and driving on roads. Top speed 100mph, cruise range 400 miles, powered with unleaded petrol





a vertical level with Elevate, though it’s tackling market feasibility barriers such as certification, battery technology and infrastructure first. Power Electric and Takeoff and landing Vertical

The retail version will be available soon


Kitty Hawk


Aero and Kittyhawk

Open-seated, propeller-driven machine.. Power Electric, maximum flight time 22minutes, takeoff and landing vertical on water

The retail version will be available soon




German aviation startup

A five-seater air taxi jet with top speed 300 km/hr, power electric, takeoff and landing vertical


Aiming the first manned test flight in 2019.




The Pop.Up consists of a carbon-fibre passenger capsule that functions as a two-seater electric car when attached to a chassis, or as an aircraft when a drone is summoned by smartphone to remove the capsule from the chassis. Power Electric. Travel distance per charge 62 miles. Capsule dimensions 2.4 x 1.4 metres.

Need technologies such as electric propulsion that are not yet advanced enough.




Aeromobil’s Slovakian makers

Converting from a car to a plane in three minutes, this is the closest we come to the sci-fi dream. Power: Electric on road, conventional aircraft fuel in flight. Top speed 99mph. Takeoff and landing Vertical

plans to deliver the first models in 2020

Issues to tackle

Due to the requirement of propulsion that is both small and powerful, the cost of producing a flying car would be very high. In addition, the flying car's energy efficiency would be much lower compared to conventional cars and other aircraft. Flying cars would be used for shorter distances, at higher frequency, lower speeds and lower altitude. For both environmental and economic reasons, flying cars would be an enormous use of resources. Although statistically, commercial flying is much safer than driving, unlike commercial planes personal flying cars might not have as many safety checks and their pilots would not be as well trained. In mid-air collisions and mechanical failures, the flying car could fall from the sky or go through an emergency landing, resulting in deaths and property damage. In addition, poor weather conditions, such as low air density, lightning storms and heavy rain, snow or fog could be challenging and affect the aerodynamics.