VTOL — When will we be able to drive our own flying cars?

VTOL

The short answer is this 2019. Although this depends on what is your idea of a flying car.

In 2019, you can already buy a flying car. The Terrafugia Transition is a flying car combination of a car with wings which is fuelled with normal gasoline. The limitations of this new concept are that you still need a pilot licence and an airport to fly, so maybe is not as convenient as what you have in mind.

The futuristic idea of having our own flying car parked in front of our door that we all dreamed of is called VTOL vehicle.

Basic concepts

VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing. There are two approaches for this technology, Rotorcraft and powered-lift vehicles.

Rotorcraft are those that generate the lift-power by spinning rotor blades, such as helicopters, quadcopters and gyrocopters.

Power-lift vehicles are those that take off vertically but converts to fixed-wing lift in the horizontal fly. Some examples are convertiplanes, tail-sitters, vectored thrust, lift jets and lift fans.

Let us take a look at the projects under development, to get an idea of what options we will have in the next years.

VTOL vehicle projects

All VTOL vehicles project are designed with the idea to be air taxis, and not to be personal vehicles.

Volocopter

The Volocopter is a dronelike rotorcraft powered by 18 electric propellers with room for two passengers. It is designed for inner-city transport covering flight distances of up to 30km at speeds of up to 100km/h. It has been already proven to fly safely, quietly and comfortably in demonstration flights in Dubai and Las Vegas. Now, the company is ready to establish the first commercial air taxi routes. Volocopter recently obtained investment from Intel and Daimler.

Lilium

The Lilium jet is an all-electric VTOL light jet controlled by twelve flaps each fitted with three electric engines, each with a ducted fan. Therefore, the vehicle is lifted vertically by 36 small turbofan engines that are tilted horizontally to fly like an airplane. The current model can transport two passengers, and the company is working in a larger model with room for five passengers that can fly ranges of 300km at speeds up to 300km/h.

The jet is planned for commuting without emissions and noise pollution. Since is all electric, during fly the Lilium jet makes less noise than a motorbike and during take-off and landing the noise is similar to a truck. Furthermore, it fits in a standard landing pad which should make easier to accommodate them in the existing city infrastructures. The company, supported by ESA, initially targeted commercial operation for 2025, but recently announced that they could conceivably begin service far sooner.

Bell Nexus

The Bell Nexus is a power-lift vehicle that looks like an oversized drone. The aircraft is controlled by six ducted-articulated-fans which are vertically oriented during taking off an landing and horizontally oriented for faster air travelling. The goal of Nexus is to transport four passengers plus the pilot up to a range of 250 km in one hour.

The company, Bell Aerospace, has already experience developing VTOL aircraft like the tilt-rotor flyer V-22 Osprey, developed in conjunction with Boeing. They expect to begin flight-testing by 2023 and commence commercial operations shortly thereafter. This is the main bet of Uber Air.

Vahana

The Airbus Vahana is another electric-powered VTOL vehicle, in this case, controlled by eight propellers. The vehicle is self-piloted an initially designed for 1 passenger, although there is second design under development for two passengers.

The first full-scale model has already been tested in rotorcraft mode and currently are testing the transitions to forward flight. Airbus targets 2020 for a production-ready version of the aircraft.

Other projects in the pipeline

Those are just some of the most advanced and better-funded VTOL projects, but there are more than 50 companies working in some sort of flying vehicle and the list keeps growing. Some examples of these projects are the Cora, Ehang, AeroMobil, SureFly, Terrafugia’s TF-X, Electrafly, Joby, Switchblade, etc

Outstanding challenges

All these new prototypes show that the idea of flying cars is no longer a science fiction dream but is close to becoming reality. However, the adoption of flying cars still faces major regulatory roadblocks.

The legal hurdles related to small flying vehicles are probably a greater challenge than the technological ones. For this reason, for now, only flying taxis is the viable option. As we become familiar with having VTOLs flying over our cities, perhaps then, we can begin to imagine how we can allow ourselves to drive our own flying vehicles.

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Now it is your turn.

  • Have you ever dreamt of having a flying car?
  • What do you think of the idea of having VTOLs flying over our cities?
  • Do you think it is a good solution for our urban mobility problems?

Leave us your opinion in the comments.

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Author: Enrique Morales Orcajo, PhD

I am an engineer, scientist, and traveler based in Europe. I write about how to consume and digest scientific studies in a practical and efficient way. My goal is to help you make more sound scientific judgments.

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