Flying cars under development vary significantly

Spurred by technology advances and demand for transportation alternatives in increasingly congested cities, entrepreneurs around the globe are vying to become the first to develop a commercially viable “flying car.” The designs vary greatly, and most aren’t actually cars capable of driving on roads. Here are some examples:


European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is working at its Silicon Valley research center on a driverless flying taxi that at first will have a pilot, but will later be autonomous. The vertical takeoff-landing, all-electric aircraft is a cockpit mounted on a sled and flanked by propellers in front and back. Airbus plans to test a prototype before the end of 2017, and to have the first Vahanas ready for production by 2020.



Israeli tech firm Urban Aeronautics originally designed its people-carrying drone as an “air mule” for military use. It takes off vertically and has a standard helicopter engine, but no large main rotor. Its lift comes from two fans buried inside the fuselage. Two smaller ducted “fans” mounted in the rear provide forward movement. It can fly between buildings and below power lines, attain speeds up to 115 mph, stay aloft for an hour and carry up to 1,100 pounds

___This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo, Israel, late in 2016. (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP)

Lilium Jet

German technology company Lilium Aviation is working on a two-seater aircraft that will take off vertically using 36 electric fan engines arrayed along its wings. The aircraft will hover and climb until the fans are turned backward slowly. After that, it flies forward like a plane using electric jet engines. The company has been flight-testing small scale models. The aircraft will have an estimated cruising speed of up to 190 mph and a range of 190 miles.


AeroMobil 3.0

The Slovakian company AeroMobil has developed a car with wings that unfold for flight. It uses regular gasoline and fits into standard parking spaces. It can also take off from airports or “any grass strip or paved surface just a few hundred meters long,” according to the company’s website. Driver and pilot licenses will be required.


EHang 184

Chinese drone maker EHang has been flight-testing a person-carrying drone in Nevada. The vehicle is a cockpit with four arms equipped with rotors. Takeoff and landing targets are pre-programmed. A command station in China will be able to monitor and control the aircraft anywhere in the world, company officials say.



Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California is developing a two-seat, all-electric plane with 12 tilt rotors arrayed along its wings and tail. The aircraft takes off and lands vertically and can achieve speeds up to 200 mph, according to the company’s website.



Terrafugia, based in Woburn, Massachusetts, began working a decade ago on a car folding wings that can fly or be driven on roads that’s called the Transition. The company says it plans to begin production of the Transition in 2019. Terrafugia is also working on a “flying car” called the TF-X — a car with folding arms and rotors for vertical takeoff and landing.

___This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo, Israel, late in 2016. (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP)


This two-seater, electric multicopter from German company e-volo has 18-rotors and looks like a cross between a helicopter and a drone. It is controlled from the ground, eliminating the need for a pilot license.



This Mountain View, California, aircraft developer bankrolled by Google co-founder Larry Page says on its webpage that it is working on a “revolutionary new form of transportation” at the “intersection of aerodynamics, advanced manufacturing and electric propulsion.” Company officials declined to provide details about Zee’s projects.

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This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo,… (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP) More

German space researchers reboot effort to launch hypersonic space plane

by Sean Gallagher

Goal: 100 passengers, 1-hour intercontinental flights, with test flights by mid-2030s.

From Europe to Australia in 90 minutes—but meal service would be problematic.

The Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Germany’s aerospace research center, has renewed decade-old plans for a suborbital passenger space plane that could fly from Europe to Australia in under 90 minutes. The rocket-powered SpaceLiner, originally conceptualized as a 50-passenger hypersonic airliner, has now been given new urgency and direction with a roadmap for flights within the next 20 years, SpaceLiner project lead Martin Sippel told Aviation Week at last month’s American Institute of Aerodynamics and Astronautics’ Space Planes and Hypersonics Conference in Glasgow. Sippel spoke at the conference, presenting on SpaceLiner’s technical progress and the program’s mission definition—which now includes potentially delivering satellites and other payloads to space.

In addition to providing a fairly exclusive passenger service—which would target an extremely small percentage of the international travel market—the goal of the program is to spur large-scale production of reusable rocket engines and booster vehicles that would reduce the cost of other space missions. “The point-to-point passenger market already exists and is growing,” Sippel told Aviation Week. “We have several hundred million passengers traveling intercontinental distances each year. But even if the share will only be 0.2 percent… from a space perspective that’s a potentially huge impact. We could increase hundredfold the number of launches and, as it is a reusable vehicle designed for between 150 and 300 flights, you have serial production of engines. If you have 11 engines per vehicle then you would build 2,000 engines per year or so. That’s a huge production run, and that was the motivation.”

The DLR SpaceLiner would launch upright with the assistance of an external booster, in a fashion similar to NASA’s now-retired Space Shuttle. The booster stage, equipped with its own wings, would be captured after use by a tow aircraft and then be released for an autonomous landing. The main vehicle would glide in a low orbit trajectory and then land like a normal aircraft at its destination, reaching a maximum speed of 4.3 miles per second. The goal size of the space plane is a 100-passenger vehicle, with the passenger compartment capable of ejection and flight on its own as an emergency measure. The reusable booster stage could also be used to ferry other vehicles to space, including launch systems for satellites to be placed in higher orbit.

The development of a flying prototype of the SpaceLiner could cost as much as $33 billion and would require multiple design reviews “before you build the first hardware in 2030,” Sippel said. Testing would involve up to six prototype vehicles, and actual commercial service wouldn’t begin until 2040. So please, don’t start calling Lufthansa to book a flight.