The phrase “I thought I’d have my personal jetpack by now, or at least my flying car” is often used to temper excitement about improvements in personal transportation technology, such as fuel-cell vehicles or autonomous vehicles.
There are plenty of company’s working on the latter, including some big names like Hyundai and Toyota; however, it’s a small one — AirCar — making news these days. The two seat is undergoing testing in Slovakia, completing a 35-minute flight from Nitra to Bratislava June 28.
The trip marked the 142nd time the craft has successfully landed. Nearly as importantly, the nearly 60-mile trip takes nearly 90 minutes to complete when simply driving from one city to the other, officials at Klein Vision, the company developing the aircraft noted.
“This flight starts a new era of dual transportation vehicles. It opens a new category of transportation and returns the freedom originally attributed to cars back to the individual,” said Stefan Klein, the engineering professor who created the AirCar prototype after exiting the cockpit in Bratislava.
Plenty of competition
AirCar’s progress is noteworthy, but the company has plenty of competition — some of it pretty formidable. Hyundai and General Motors recently revealed plans to explore the flying car segment with the South Korean maker saying it’s accelerated its efforts.
Hyundai Global Chief Operating Officer Jose Munoz, who also heads up the company’s North American operations, told a group of investors and media that an air taxi service could be operational by 2025, if everything goes well.
He noted his company is ahead of its original timetable for producing a useable flying car, originally 2028.
GM earlier this year rolled out a Cadillac flying concept vehicle at CES 2021. “It’s a very nascent space,” Fletcher later noted. “There’s a lot of work to be done on the regulatory side, as well as the actual technology side.”
In January, the company teased a four-rotor prototype dubbed the VTOL (vertical-take-off-and-landing), is “designed for the moment when time is of the essence and convenience is everything,” said Michael Simcoe, GM’s vice president of global design, at the time.
Details about the VTOL were scarce, though Simcoe did note the concept would use a 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The flying car would be targeted at Cadillac customers. Other automakers are also putting resources — human and financial — behind the effort to develop a flying car, including Toyota, Daimler AG, Aston Martin and Geely.
Last fall, AirCar’s fifth-generation model went through early-stage testing, including several takeoffs and landings as well as some in-air maneuvers. The latest trip pushed that progress further.
“AirCar is no longer just a proof of concept; flying at 8,200 feet at a speed of 100 knots, it has turned science fiction into a reality,” said Anton Zajac, the co-founder of Klein Vision. The current prototype is powered by a 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine from BMW with a max cruising speed of nearly 120 mph, or 103 knots. It converts from plane to car in 3 minutes.
Under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority, the AirCar has completed more than 40 hours of test flights, including steep 45 degree turns and stability and maneuverability testing.
The next-generation model, AirCar Prototype 2, gets a few upgrades, notably a 300-hp engine. With its variable pitch propeller, the Prototype 2 is expected to have a cruise speed of nearly 190 mph, or 162kt, and range of 621miles.
The company is still not offering up details about when they expect it will be available for purchase — and what that purchase price will be.