Could this flying car be the future of intercity travel?

6 Jul 2021

The AirCar Prototype One. Image: Jaroslav Novák/TASR

After a half-hour aerial demonstration, the AirCar metamorphosised from plane to sports car, turning science-fiction into reality.

Resembling an invention somewhere between Blade Runner and Transformers, Klein Vision’s AirCar made a successful flight last week (28 June) between the Slovakian cities of Nitra and Bratislava.

Marking its 142nd landing, the flying car was piloted and driven by its creator, Prof Stefan Klein. After 35 minutes in the air, the showcase vehicle was met on the ground by a group of excited reporters and photographers.

Once stationary, the futuristic aircraft transformed into a sports car in under three minutes.

“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 Klein after exiting the AirCar cockpit in Bratislava.

The AirCar Prototype One boasts a 160 horsepower BMW engine with fixed propeller and a ballistic parachute. This model has completed more than 40 hours of test flights, in which it has flown at 8,200ft and reached a cruising speed of 190kph.

The AirCar Prototype Two will take this to the next level. Nearly doubling its engine’s horsepower, it will have a range of 1,000km at 300kph.

While the second-generation vehicle is still waiting on its road permit and aircraft certification, its creators are confident in the contribution they’ve made to personal air travel.

“AirCar is no longer just a proof of concept. Flying at 8,200ft at a speed of 100 knots, it has turned science-fiction into a reality,” said Anton Zajac, the co-founder of Klein Vision.

Klein Vision aren’t the only designers re-imagining personal transport. While Klein aims to give autonomy back to the individual, other companies are working towards shared flying vehicles.

Lillium continues to develop its seven-seater electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet to easily connect distant cities. The long-anticipated start-up is getting ever-closer to a commercial launch of its aircraft, which uses electric jet engines and is equipped with room for luggage.

Slated to open for the public in 2024, the company plans for locations in Europe and the United States.

While it may seem energy-inefficient to fly rather than drive, Sebastian Thrun dismissed this notion in an interview with Forbes.

Thrun is the CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation, a company that “builds electric flight transportation solutions to free people from traffic”.

He explained how roughly only 5pc of energy is used to keep an aircraft aloft, while the majority is used to create forward motion.

As these vehicles would travel in straight lines, any additional energy used for lift would quickly be made up by the more direct route.

For the urban environment, Morgan Stanley Research predicts that the autonomous aircraft market could be as large as $1.5tn by 2040. It cites advances from VTOL technology as key in the development of the urban flying car.

As necessary research advances in areas such as materials technology, battery life and autonomous systems coincide, progress may come all at once for the industry.

Whether these vehicles will take the AirCar route of the individual, or bring a new era of sky-high car-pooling is yet to be seen, but investors across the board are taking punts at how science-fiction will be made reality.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news