For most of us, when we think of a flying car, we’re most likely to think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Blade Runner than actual reality. After all, we couldn’t possibly be close to that sort of technology, could we?
Well actually, it appears that flying cars might be hitting our skies far sooner than any of us could have dreamed, with one UK start-up company even teasing that a flying ‘air taxi’ service could be available as soon as 2022. Just think, instead of wasting precious time stuck in your Uber at rush hour, you could simply fly over all the traffic and reach your destination with loads of time to spare!
Vertical Aerospace have already created and built a vehicle that can perform a full electric vertical take-off and landing. The demonstrator aircraft, which weighs 750kg, had a pilotless test flight in June this year at Cotswold Airport as part of preliminary tests on their creation. From this successful first flight, Vertical Aerospace believes that they need just 3 or 4 more years to develop these cars into a successful taxi business.
Vertical Aerospace plan to launch a piloted air taxi
Of course, pilotless drones and helicopters are nothing unique, as there are various companies across the world who are trying to develop their own version of flying cars. What makes Vertical Aerospace unique is the fact that the innovators don’t see their flying cars as being pilotless, but are instead developing what could be called a more realistic approach to flying cars with vehicles that will overcome safety and regulatory concerns by both government and the public.
Pilotless flying cars are in development worldwide, with companies like Uber, Airbus and Volocopter all working hard to create flying vehicles that wouldn’t need a human pilot. However, this sort of technology is still thought to be around a decade away from being ready. Especially since so many companies are still trying to overcome the growing pains of developing self-driving cars. If we can’t make the public view self-driving cars as a safe way to travel, it’s very unlikely that people are going to accept and, indeed, choose to travel in a flying car with no pilot.
Which is exactly why Vertical Aerospace may be on to a far more successful and realistic approach to the prospect of flying cars. Not only will the technology be far easier to achieve, the fact that there is a human face there, ready to drive said a flying car, makes what should be a totally alien and terrifying prospect, little scarier than getting on to a plane.
The car itself will merge Formula 1 technology with aerospace engineering
The CEO of Vertical Aerospace, Stephen Fitzpatrick was once a Formula 1 racing team owner, and it’s the knowledge and technology from his time in Formula 1 to develop his ideas for a flying car. In particular, the lightweight materials and aerodynamic design of Formula 1 cars are far more similar to a plane than any road car. By matching the technical engineering of Formula 1 with aerospace engineering, Fitzpatrick has managed to create his flying car very successfully, so far.
Since the idea was first incepted in 2016, Fitzpatrick has brought together 28 of the best aerospace engineers and experts. These have included acquisitions from companies such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and GE in order to create his car. The company have also been working closely with both the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency to ensure that they gain certification for any future models.
This can be a slow process, as with any new technology, it takes time and multitudes of testing in order to gain a green flag to fly such a vehicle. This is particularly important for when it comes to testing the vehicle with a pilot onboard.
If a flying car prototype is flown with no pilot and it crashes, there is little harm other than the loss of time and money on said prototype. However, when you add the prospect of a pilot into that equation you also add the danger of injury and – in extreme cases – death for the said pilot. Something which can put companies off the idea entirely.
Vertical Aerospace have not indicated when they would be looking to start testing with a pilot. If they are planning to launch their air taxi by 2022, though, you have to imagine that first tests will occur in 2019/20 if they can get the go-ahead from regulators.
Until then, we’ll all just have to rely on a good, old grounded taxi to get us to where we need to go.