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We know what youâ€™re thinking: itâ€™s 2015â€¦ whereâ€™s my frigginâ€™ flying car already?
Well, contrary to myriad flighty predictions, the winged automobile is still not a mass-produced reality. No, the imagined highways of the sky remain as deserted as your local bank on a Sunday afternoon.
Why? Well, there are all sorts of reasons, besides the obvious mechanical and financial challenges. And legal issues are chief among them. Think about it: would the driver need a pilotâ€™s licence? What about restricted airspace? And would it really be all that much better mindlessly commuting with the same sorry throng of bumper-bashers in the air as you currently do on the ground?
Then thereâ€™s the frightening fact that a simple â€œbreakdownâ€ would be akin to dropping clean out of the sky. And we should, of course, also keep in mind the daunting prospect of flying a small vessel in inclement weather.
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. There have, in fact, been a handful of brave attempts at the flying car â€“ some of which may yet seen the light of day. Technically, these may be little more than small aircraft that double as road-legal cars, but what more would the driver-cum-flyer of the future really need?
So, here are four valiant, on-going attempts at the flying car.
1. AeroMobil 3.0
If you have even a passing interesting in the winged car, youâ€™ll have heard of AeroMobil. This Slovakia-based company has been feverishly working away on the concept since around 1990, and the AeroMobil 3.0 is its latest effort.
Yes, itâ€™s a road-legal car. And it flies, too. The AeroMobil 3.0 may be pretty hefty â€“ itâ€™s 6000mm long and 2240mm wide (or a full 8320mm with the wings out) â€“ but the company still insists that it â€œfits into any standard parking spaceâ€. It also runs on regular petrol and can take off and land using â€œany grass strip or paved surface just a few hundred metres longâ€ thanks to the variable angle of attack of the wings. Spiffy.
Powered by a Rotax 912 â€“ a horizontally opposed 1352cc four-potter commonly used on small aircraft â€“ the two-seater vehicle apparently boasts a range of 875km on tar or 700km in the air. As an automobile, its makers claim a top speed of 160km/h, a number that rises to over 200km/h when flying.
The AeroMobil 3.0 has been tested in real flight conditions â€“ in fact, itâ€™s still taking part in a regular flight-testing programme that started in 2014 â€“ and the company says the prototype is â€œvery close to the final productâ€. With bated breath we wait.
2. Terrafugia TF-X
Terrafugia may be another name youâ€™ve heard bandied about in â€œflying carâ€ circles. This US company has been developing the Transition â€œroadable airplaneâ€ since 2006, delaying the planned first customer delivery year after yearâ€¦ after year. The latest estimated production date? The second quarter of 2016.
In the meantime, the Massachusetts-based company has been busying itself with the Terrafugia TF-X. Take note, however, that this model is nowhere near production. In fact, itâ€™s little more than a concept. But what a concept it is.
The TF-X differs from the Transition in that itâ€™s a â€œvertical take-off and landingâ€ craft. Yes, that means â€“ just like a helicopter â€“ thereâ€™s no runway required. How does it work? Well, the TF-X employs short wings featuring electrically driven rotors that point up for take-off before rotating to enable level flight.
Theoretical specifications include a flight range of around 800km, space for four people and the ability to squeeze into a single-car garage. According to reports covering Terrafugiaâ€™s 2013 reveal, development is expected to last up to 12 years. Ouch.
3. SkyRider X2R
Like the TF-X above, the SkyRider X2R has yet to be built, never mind actually take to the skies. But itâ€™s an interesting concept nonetheless, using four â€œducted fansâ€ with wings to generate lift and maintain flight.
Macro Industries, the American company behind the idea, has billed the two-seater SkyRider X2R concept as a sort of autonomous vehicle of the sky. It says the flying car will use â€œrobust computer technology combined with instant location and positioning systems to generate a skyway that the SkyRider will follow automaticallyâ€.
The craft would theoretically employ an â€œenhanced automobile engineâ€ with normal petrol as its fuel. And the company adds that it would function more like a car than a plane, in that it would employ a steering wheel and a shift lever (the latter featuring park, hover, climb, cruise, etc. modes).
Whether the SkyRider X2R will actually become a reality remains to be seen. On its website, Macro Industries says the production modelâ€™s arrival date is â€œprojected to be five years after receiving investment fundingâ€. But it seems theyâ€™re still waiting for cashâ€¦
4. Moller Skycar M400
Another â€œvertical take-off and landingâ€ craft, the Moller Skycar M400 was thought up by Canadian engineer Paul Moller, whoâ€™s been tinkering with the notion of a personal flying car for around half a century (can you say â€œvapourwareâ€?).
A prototype version of the M400 has taken to the skies before â€“ although it was tethered to an overhead crane (apparently for insurance purposes), with no pilot on board. Still, a production model is apparently still under development, even though Moller reportedly ran out of investors back in 2009, prompting reports branding the entire project a â€œfailureâ€.
But, late in 2013, Moller initiated a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to raise capital for further development. When the campaign closed in early 2014, the grand total stood at $29 429, which fell spectacularly short of the $950 000 target.
Regardless, the Moller Skycar M400 is another intriguing concept: like the SkyRider X2R outlined above, it employs four ducted fans to move air vertically for take-off and horizontally for flight. Each fan is powered by a 530cc Wankel engine, which in turn results in a theoretical cruising speed of nearly 500km/h. Pie in the sky? Maybeâ€¦