It seems like every day I see something in my aviation news feed about some sort of new “flying car” being built by some random startup that says it’s revolutionising transportation. These vehicles are neat, but call them what they really are: electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Because they’re not flying cars.
Publications have been promising for decades that one day soon we’ll avoid traffic with flying cars. Science fiction has cemented the idea that the future is the flying car. In 1940, Popular Science notes, Henry Ford predicted that someone would combine a plane with a car. Moulton Taylor proved Ford correct in 1949 with the first flight of the Aerocar, an aircraft with detachable wings that could be driven on the road.
Taylor would be far from the last to combine planes and cars into one.
The term has also become extremely popular with the developments of personal eVTOLs. As the name implies, these are electric aircraft capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. Most promise to revolutionise how you get around. Despite endless headlines, even from the New York Times, none of these vehicles are really flying cars.
Take the Jetson One for example.
This eVTOL generates news as a flying car, and Jetson’s goal is to make everyone a pilot. It recently made its debut, and it’s already sold out for 2022. It looks like good fun, but there’s really nothing “car” about it. This is a VTOL that you take off, fly for less than 20 minutes, then land. At $US92,000 ($127,714) with a weight limit of 91 kg, “everyone” is optimistic.
The Opener Blackfly gets the same flying car distinction despite similar flight characteristics.
Opener goes even further than Jetson, advertising a future where you save on travel expenses by flying an eVTOL, and governments save the money they’d have used maintaining infrastructure. Opener calls itself “the future of transportation.”
No matter what the companies and papers tell you about ushering in a new era or starting a revolution, their products are legally incapable of living up to the promises.
Those eVTOLs fall into the FAA’s ultralight category. This removes the necessity for their pilots to have licenses, widening the buying market. However, ultralights have a lot of restrictions. You can’t fly them over any congested area of a city or town. You can’t fly them at night. They don’t have much range. And the people flying them may not know how to avoid traffic or how to make radio calls necessary to fly in some airspace.
That means these eVTOLs have little practical use. That’s not a revolution. It’s a toy. There’s more freedom and more practicality flying an old Cessna 172 than the pilot of what’s touted as the future. And I don’t have to worry about a catastrophic propeller failure chopping me like a salad.
Bigger eVTOLs have more practicality but require proper licensing, and you can still forget the idea of flying out to lunch.
Some of the companies developing these are more realistic, saying they’re for the kinds of shuttle services that helicopter airlines took a swing at long ago.
The closest vehicles to the promise of flying cars are roadable aircraft. Today, these include the Terrafugia Transition and the Klein Vision AirCar. Both of these are planes that can fold their wings and drive on the road. Of course, they aren’t exactly on point, as taking off requires first getting to an airport.
You can’t buy them, either, and driving them on the road may not be legal where you live. However, they’re about as close as you’re going to get to avoiding traffic by flying.
It looks like eVTOLs are here to stay for a while and that’s fine; a lot of these vehicles look like an absolute hoot to fly. But let’s call them what they are instead of making them appear to be something that they’re not.