As if the influx of electric pickup trucks isn’t tough enough to keep track of, the flying car segment just saw two new entries to the market this week: the AirCar and Switchblade.
Admittedly, the everyday use of the flying car is further into the future than battery-electric pickups; however, just like the electric pickup, the players in the segment are both established automakers and slew of nascent automotive aviation companies.
Hyundai has been pushing the latest automotive mainstay pushing the idea of a flying car, showing off a full-size prototype at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The South Korean automaker teamed with Uber to develop a prototype for a line of air taxis to underpin its Uber Elevate ride-sharing service.
The pair hoped to offer demonstration flights later this year with the actual service starting in 2023 in Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia. However, in the meantime, the startups are just idly sitting around after having thrown up their hands.
The Switchblade is the first flying machine from Samson Motors, an outfit based in Redmond, Oregon, and is currently undergoing some performance testing. The recent effort revealed the three-wheeled vehicle, which is technically classified as a motorcycle, can easily reach 88 mph — the speed it needs to attain to takeoff. Fortunately, it does not also need the 1.21 gigawatts Marty McFly needed to power Doc Brown’s DeLorean-cum-time-machine back to 1985.
Unsurprisingly, it can travel a bit faster than that as it’s powered by a turbo-charged 200-horsepower 4-cylinder that sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of about 125 mph — on the ground. It’s designed to cruise 160 mph in the air, with a top speed of 190 mph and a range of 500 miles.
The Switchblade shifts from car to plane easily with the wings extending from underneath the vehicle, protected by clam-shell doors until needed. It will also come with a full-vehicle parachute in the event of a problem while in the air.
The idea behind the Switchblade is to cut the time needed for a 500-mile road trip from 10 hours down to a 3.5-hour trip with a mix of flying and driving. The flying car could land at regional airports, which are generally within a 30-minute drive of most homes in the country. So in essence, it’s designed to be a time machine as well.
“Say goodbye to traffic congestion, weather delays, and rental car/Uber hassles. Say hello to freedom,” quips Sam Bousfield, designer of the Switchblade and CEO of Samson Sky. Not unlike Doc Brown’s DeLorean, “time travel” in the 21st Century isn’t cheap either and the Switchblade costs $150,000. The company says it has reservations from all 50 states and 38 countries. However, it can be reserved without a deposit.
The company hasn’t actually put a Switchblade in the air yet. It’s tested scale models and completed computer simulations, a Samson spokesperson told TheDetroitBureau.com. There is no firm timeframe for when the initial test flights will occur, but plan is to begin delivering vehicles with a year of getting necessary regulatory approvals for flying.
The vehicles will be built in Oregon to start, but as volumes grow, the company will establish assembly centers around the country. The vehicles will be shipped as kits to be assembled at the facilities. No tentative locations have been established yet.
For those needing a little more interior space, there is another new option, the AirCar. While not entirely new, the fifth generation of the Slovakian-made flying car is also in the midst of testing, just completing two test flights earlier this week. The vehicle “achieved two full airport patterns, including two takeoffs and landings.”
The two-seater car converts from car to airplane in about three minutes with the touch of a button. The vehicle weighs about 2,500 pounds and can carry as much as an additional 440 pounds while flying. It can put out about 140 hp from its 1.6-liter 4-cylinder produced by BMW. Like the aforementioned Switchblade, it can take off and land at virtually any regional airport as it only needs about 1,000 feet for takeoffs. It has a top speed of about 125 mph.
“With AirCar you will arrive at your destination without the hassle of getting a ride to airport and passing through commercial security, you can drive your AirCar to the golf course, the office, the mall or your hotel and park it in a normal parking space,” said Anton Zajac, Klein Vision’s co-founder, investor and pilot.
The aircraft is the brainchild of Stefan Klein, a visiting professor at the Mackintosh School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland. He’s been working through various iterations of flying cars since 1989, starting with Aeromobil I and II. He left the company in 2016 to begin his venture with Zajac, the AirCar.
The pair had a working model within 18 months. In addition to the two-seat test model undergoing testing, the company also has plans for a four-seat vehicle, a twin-engine version as well as an amphibious model. There is no pricing available nor an expected date to begin sales of the vehicle.
Other small companies like Terrafugia are continuing to develop their existing vehicles. In fact, the company’s latest advancement is the TF-2 Air Vehicle propulsion system. It uses eight electric motors powered by a turbine generator right now, but it will follow the lead of electrified four-wheel cousins and use batteries for power.