Slovakian company AeroMobil’s flying car is displayed at Le Bourget during the International Paris Air Show. (Photo: Eric Piermont / AFP/Getty Images)
Race to turn Flying Cars into a Reality
by AFPAeronautics giants are treating the idea of a flying car with caution, as such a project raises more questions than it answers, experts say — it’s a child’s dream, a millionaire’s toy. But is it really the next big thing in transport?
At this year’s Paris Air Show, you had to search hard to find an aircraft that looked anything like an automobile: but one such model, the AeroMobil, was tucked away under the old Concordes at the Air and Space Museum, just outside the capital.
This strange-looking hybrid, with its bulbous nose and retractable wings, designed by a Slovakian company, is scheduled to go into series production by 2020.
“After you’ve landed at an airport, you transform the plane into a car and take the road to wherever you want,” Simon Bendrey, AeroMobil’s deputy head of engineering, told AFP. And they have already received a number of orders, he added, despite an asking price of $1.3-$1.8 million.
While flying cars have starred in films including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Fifth Element, the race to turn such dreams into a reality is being run by dozens of small creative start-ups like AeroMobil.
Among those nearest to take-off is the Dutch outfit PAL-V, which is offering a two-seater gyrocopter and is scheduled to be available by next year — a steal at 300,000 euros. Czech company Nirvana Systems says it has had dozens of orders for its mini-helicopter, which can also travel on roads, albeit at rather sluggish ground speeds.
Silicon Valley-based company Kitty Hawk says its Flyer will be on sale by the end of the year. And just last week France’s Pegase, a cross between a ultra-light plane and a mini-car, crossed the Channel, the narrow stretch of water between England and France.
Until recently, flying cars “were a cross between a bad car and a bad plane,” said Bruno Sainjon, head of the French aerospace lab ONERA, on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show. But there has been a quantum leap in design thanks to vast improvements in the power of electric propulsion, linked largely to the rapid advances in drone technology recently.
Today, such engines lift 80-100 kilos (176-220 pounds), Xavier Dutertre, director of the Techoplane project based in Normandy, northern France, told AFP. “And we’re not far from having the capacity to transport one or two men for about 20 minutes,” he added. “In five to 10 years, that will have become commonplace.”
While driving-flying hybrids may initially be the latest must-have gadgets for the ultra-rich, experts believe that such vehicles could actually be rapidly overtaken, as the industry sets its sights on fly-only solutions further down the line.
The real future, said ONERA’s Sainjon is “a system of on-demand air transport, which would clearly be the start of a new era for aviation” — a flying taxi service, in other words.
Flying cars will not be something that just anyone can drive, “because it’s too risky,” Pascal Pincemin, an aerospace specialist with Deloitte, told AFP. He envisaged digital platforms to manage the new form of traffic, and that appears to be what Uber, the App-based ride-hailing service, has in mind with its “Elevate” project.
The idea appears to be to develop a network of electric, vertical-takeoff aircraft and they are aiming to make their first demonstrations in 2020.
Dubai could be the first off the starting blocks with a new kind of small autonomous electric helicopter scheduled to come into operation later this year. There is “a real appetite, a real interest”, in this kind of transport in some of the more traffic-congested cities, said Jean Brice Dumont, head of engineering at Airbus Helicopters.
At the last Geneva motor show, the company presented its own prototype flying car, “Pop Up”, developed in cooperation with a subsidiary of Volkswagen. But Dumont said they were expecting the technology to mature and develop further.
Boeing, so far, has not shown its hand and Deloitte’s Pincemin does not see flying taxis becoming a common mode of transport before 2050. First, he said, the vehicles would have to prove their reliability.
Air transport today has a death rate of 0.2 per million flights, said Patrick Cipriani, director of security at the DGAC, France’s civil aviation directorate.
“Will we be prepared to accept levels like those of light aircraft, which are 100 times less safe?” he asked.
WATCH | AeroMobil’s Flying Car Unveiled at Paris Air Show
At the Paris Air Show, Flying Cars, Tiny Drones and a Cargo Ship to Mars
No doubt about it: the Paris Air Show is an aerospace geek’s paradise.
There are flying cars and Concorde’s would-be supersonic successor, a company offering to deliver cargo to the Moon — for a mere $1.2 million (U.S.) per kilogram — and the latest in funky futuristic aviation ideas, both big and small.
No doubt about it: the Paris Air Show is an aerospace geek’s paradise.
But with everything from the smallest drones to the largest passenger jets on display, it’s tough to sift through it all.
So here’s a guide to all the cool things that caught
Of the various car-type flying machines in development, the two-seat “Pegasus,” from French firm Vaylon, can at least boast that it has actually flown.
The carbon-fibre four-wheeler drove out of Paris and then crossed the English Channel between France and England last week, flying from Calais to Dover using the paragliding sail it carries in a niche on its back, and powered by the large fan glued to its rear.
Vaylon’s president, Jerome Dauffy, said the car then drove the rest of the way to London’s Trafalgar Square.
A Peugeot 400cc motorcycle engine drives the wheels. It and the fan for flying are both gasoline-powered.
Dauffy aims to get the car-plane licensed both for roads and the air, “so you can drive in town and be able to take off anywhere.”
The machine will sell for between €100,000 and €150,000, he said.
As well as to private owners, he hopes to sell the Pegasus to first responders who could use it to fly over disaster-affected areas.
The name of the company developing a supersonic successor to Concorde is wonderfully apt. Boom Supersonic is aiming for an inaugural flight next year of a demonstration plane, the XB-1. Boom’s goal is for a supersonic airliner that would fly 2.6 times faster than other commercial aircraft and could half the seven-hour flight between New York and London, flying at 2,300 kilometres per hour and carrying 55 passengers.
“Every passenger wants faster flights, every airline is hungry for something different and better to offer to their passengers. And thanks to fifty years of progress and how we build airplanes, aerodynamics, materials and engines, you can build a supersonic airplane which is affordable to fly and profitable to the operator as an airline,” Blake Scholl, Boom’s CEO, said at the Paris show.
“So it’s a second generation of supersonic airplane. We’re picking up where the Concorde left off and building something that is much more efficient, way more affordable to fly, also even faster.”
The graceful Concorde cruised at 2,160 kilometres per hour and is still much lamented by enthusiasts following its retirement in 2003.
Several companies at the Paris show are offering solutions to bring down drones, responding to concerns that the unnamed flying machines could be modified to carry toxic agents and used by terrorists to attack crowds from the air.
France deployed anti-drone technologies to protect stadiums when it hosted the European soccer championship last year. Drone tracking and jamming equipment has also been used to safeguard the airspace above championship football games in the United States and military bases — both from attack drones and those used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering.
Black Sage, based in Boise, Idaho, showcased a Christmas tree-like array of sensors at the Paris show that the company’s co-founder, David Romero, said can spot and track drones as small as 10 centimetres across — no larger than many birds.
Their equipment can then disorient unwanted drones by zapping them with radio beams — either bringing them down or sending them scurrying away, back to where they first took off. Romero said their system was deployed to safeguard the airspace above the British royal family at a ceremony last November.
“The threat is people that want to cause harm, and they have got a lot of tools to be able to do that,” Romero said. “We now have to security in three dimensions.”
Hungarian innovator ByeGravity is aiming to develop a supersized drone-bike that a pilot could ride like a motorcycle.
ByeGravity CEO Balazs Kerulo is a keen motorcyclist, with his sights set on the skies. Having already flown a basic test version of the “Flike,” Kerulo came to the Paris show looking for more funding to develop a product version of the futuristic, electrically powered tri-copter.
“It should be ready within two or three years as a product,” he said. For now, it can fly for about 20 minutes, at a top speed of 60 kilometres per hour, “but we are expecting major improvements, just like everyone else, in battery technologies.”
“I think that the technology is ready,” he said. “It’s evolving, it’s booming, we have better and better battery technologies. We have all means of a computer-controlled drone technology that is needed for this … I still believe that even me or you will be flying these kinds of things within ten or maybe 15 years.”