Are We Getting Any Closer to the Flying Car?

The visionary inside look at AeroMobil 3.0.

Next to hover boards and time travel, flying cars have long been hailed as the dream futuristic invention. And why wouldn't they be? If the open skies were to become our streets and highways, heavy traffic and waiting at red lights would essentially be eliminated. Any and all of the frustrations involved in driving could be removed.

Yet are we getting any closer to this fantasy?

Fortunately, we are doing better than on the time travel front (sorry Doctor Who fans). Two companies--Aeromobil and Terrafugia--have been hard at work for years to bring a commercial flying automobile to the marketplace.

AeroMobil began twenty-five years ago in 1990 with their first prototype, the AeroMobil 1.0. Since then, the Slovakian company has released three other models, including their most recent the AeroMobil 3.0. The transporter can shift between car and airplane in a matter of seconds by means of collapsible wings. As a car, it can fit into standard parking spaces and maneuver through traffic like any regular vehicle; as a plane, AeroMobil 3.0 can reach speeds of 124 mph (200 km/h).

Terrafugia, founded by award-winning MIT aerospace engineers and MBA's, first publicly launched in the summer of 2006 where they received initial investor backing. Vehicle prototyping began the following year, and, by 2009, their first model--named the Transition--made a successful test flight. Similar to Aeromobil, Transition makes use of folding wings, allowing their automobile to seamlessly convert between car and plane. Currently Terrafugia is working on a separate prototype they call the TF-X, which would utilize vertical takeoff and landing. For now though, TF-X is simply a concept.

The beautiful idea behind Terrafugia's TF-X

Both of these companies have glamorous websites that continue to elaborate on the specs of their dazzling flying vehicles. However, though promises continue to propagate, our whimsical visions of the future may have more barriers than fully realized.

First, there's the conflict of going from road to sky. Both vehicles require the use of airport runways or, at the very least, a paved surface/grassy strip at least a few hundred meters in length. Though Terrafugia is working towards a flyer with vertical takeoff and land, the design is still in the works. Even more, a standard driver's license will no longer be the only requirement to operate the automobile: a sport pilot license will also be necessary.

From a commercial perspective, there is no way hundreds of people could be taking their vehicles over to the airport to take off--or passing sport pilot licenses for that matter. AeroMobil CEO Juraj Vaculik has stated the car will be marketed mainly to "luxury car fans and flight enthusiasts", yet will even this group of people be able (or even willing) to drive to the airport to travel? Would it be easier just to buy their own airplane?

That, of course, lends a second question: which option is cheaper? Neither car has entered the marketplace yet and, as such, the price tags are more estimated than exact. AeroMobil has placed projections at a couple hundred thousand dollars for the AeroMobil 3.0. Terrafugia's anticipated base price for the Transition is $279,000.

Before anyone will be laying down the cash, these cars have to first be released to the marketplace. AeroMobil 3.0 is expected to be released in the next two or three years, and Terrafugia is only stated as being in production.

Like many, I am all for seeing the bright future of flying cars soaring on the horizon. Nevertheless, it seems obstacles still stand before we can see that vision become a reality.

For now, we shall wait and see Terrafugia's release of the visionary TF-X.