The flying-car sector has been caught in a holding pattern between pie-in-the-sky promises and a marketable reality for decades. But the industry may be approaching a tipping point, with three outfits now close to ushering the concept—and to be clear, we’re not talking eVTOL aircraft, but road-legal cars with wings or rotors—into production.
Unlike eVTOLs, flying cars actually fit into existing regulatory structures. According to Dr. Kyriakos Kourousis, program director at the University of Limerick program in airworthiness and fellow at the Royal Aeronautical Society: “The market could be bigger than that corresponding to ultralight/light and general aviation aircraft.”
Of the three models being readied for market, two will initially be sold as kits, which requires a less arduous approval process. The $300,000 Liberty Sport, from Dutch operation PAL-V International, is testing to be sanctioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency as a turnkey flying machine (a process that will take at least 18 months) and will require a gyrocopter license to pilot. With first deliveries projected for 2024, the three-wheeler will offer twin 100 hp Rotax engine—only one of which will be used during road operation—allowing it to operate over cities where single-engined aircraft are banned.
On the street, Klein Vision’s AirCar resembles a futuristic Italian hypercar (and will be built to M1 European standards for low-volume-production passenger vehicles), but at the touch of a button the tail extends and wings unfold from a hidden compartment. After the four-wheel prototype won approval from Slovakian regulators as an experimental aircraft, the company began working on a second iteration, now with a 280 hp aviation engine from South Africa–based Adept Airmotive. A basic pilot’s license will be required to fly the aircraft, which will have a cruising speed of 186 mph and be priced to compete with general aviation four-seaters such as the Cessna 172 and Cirrus SR22. Klein Vision’s next step will be to develop a complete, certified model under European CS-23 light-aircraft rules, which the company says will take at least two years to reach market.
Samson Sky, in Oregon, expects to begin deliveries of its Switchblade flying car in 2024, after 14 years in development. The three-wheeler offers what founder Sam Bousfield calls a Skybrid system—a gas engine that generates power for one electric motor that drives the prop and for another motor (or possibly two) for the wheels. Starting at an estimated $170,000, the Switchblade will be sold as a kit under the Federal Aviation Administration’s experimental/homebuilt category but is being designed and tested to meet the more rigorous small-plane certification standards. Bousfield claims over 2,100 orders are in hand from 53 countries.
Andy Wall, PAL-V’s sales director, asserts that the Liberty “can [operate] independent of airport infrastructure” and that its annual production could ramp up to 10,000 units—which suggests, when the industry really takes off, something of a free-for-all: cars transforming into planes and taking to the skies wherever, whenever. But it’s most likely that owners will keep their machines at home in the garage and drive to the nearest dedicated airfield for takeoff. And besides, not everyone is convinced the flying car will reach anything near ubiquitous levels of adoption.
“There are too many compromises,” says Richard Aboulafia, managing director of Washington, DC–based consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory, of the flying-car form factor. “This is a niche, and a small one at that.” That is strongly refuted by Samson Sky’s Bousfield, who says, “I don’t see this as a niche. This is the future.”