“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” - Edward Teller
t’s about time that someone asked the obvious question which has been bugging automobile enthusiasts for quite a few years now; “Do flying cars actually exist? And if yes, where are they?” Expectedly, the answer’s still ambiguous. With the automobile industry undergoing rapid changes in industrialisation and technological advancements in the past few years, it naturally follows that the general public has developed higher expectations from these mammoth companies. Yes, it’s true that we live in a world where anything is possible. And there’s no denying the fact that we are at the peak of our form. But we always want more. And that’s what makes us human. For if we’d been satisfied with our present conditions, we could’ve never aimed for more. And if we would’ve never aimed for more, then maybe I wouldn’t be writing this article through my laptop, and you wouldn’t be reading it through your mobile phones.
A concept image of the Miami Worldcenter's Skyport.
Now coming back to the question. So what exactly is a flying car? In layman terms, a flying car is a type of personal air vehicle or roadable aircraft that provides door-to-door transportation by both ground and air. In fact, many prototypes have been built since the first years of the 20th century using a variety of flight technologies and some even have true VTOL (Vertical Take-Off & Landing) performance, but no flying car has yet reached production status.On a certain level it’s understandable why no flying car has been given a green light for commercial production. There are innumerable parameters involved. The primary one being the lift/take-off design. Many types of aircraft technologies and form factors have been tried. The simplest and earliest approach was to give a driveable car added, bolt-on fixed flying surfaces and propeller. However, such a design must either tow its removable parts on a separate trailer behind it or return to its last landing point before taking off again. Other conventional take-off fixed-wing designs include folding wings, which the car carries with it when driven on the road.
The Lilium Jet is just one of many 'flying cars' in development.
Then comes the safety factor. Although statistically, commercial flying is much safer than driving, unlike commercial planes personal flying cars might not have as many safety checks and their pilots would not be as well trained. Humans already have problems with the aspect of driving in two dimensions (forward and backwards, side to side), adding in the up and down aspect would make "driving" or flying as it would be, much more difficult. However, this problem might be solved via the sole use of self-flying and self-driving cars. But again, we haven’t yet created self-driving on-road cars. So designing an auto-pilot car seems a herculean task in itself. In addition, poor weather conditions, such as low air density, lightning storms and heavy rain, snow or fog could be challenging and affect the aircraft's aerodynamics.
eHang multirotor 2-person vehicle, on display in 2017.
The final constraint is the cost. The need for the propulsion system to be both small and powerful can at present only be met using advanced and expensive technologies. The cost of manufacture could therefore be as much as $10 million. Even if such an expensive car is made, it can never recover its manufacturing costs, leave alone turning a profit. For the target audience would never spend a whopping $10 million on just a car. The minimum initial cost of flying cars will be in excess of $200,000, which can also exceed $1,000,000 as in the case of Aeromobil. The higher initial cost could be attributed to the manufacturer recovering cost for R&D, certification, production tooling, and raw materials. The higher price will have a negative impact on sales, limiting the initial market to individuals or organizations with deep pockets.
A cartoon depicting a dystopian future, where flying cars will take over the skies.
In conclusion, flying cars have more constraints than the scope of their development. The fundamental question here that no one has ever asked is: “Do we really need them?” And honestly, there’s no such purpose for which such expensive vehicles will be manufactured. It’s a simple obsession for engineers all over the world, to keep inventing something or the other. I can definitely imagine a distant future, where cars will certainly occupy the skies. And it’s a future I’m willing to wait for. But until then, let’s appreciate what we have now. For not so many years from now, some adult is going to point at a rusty, old car, lying abandoned in some garage, look down at his kid, and say, “Those were the good old times.”