Until now, they've been a concept limited to sci-fi movies but a number of companies are building flying cars - including Rolls-Royce, Uber and Airbus
Stuck in mile-long queues during rush-hour traffic is the bane of many people’s everyday lives, but they may well have a chance of escaping the jams one day soon – in flying cars.
Once a distant sci-fi dream most likely to be found in Hollywood movies, these futuristic vehicles could be the next big trend in the hybrid worlds of aviation and automotive.
As early as 2020, commuters could be able to fly from their homes to the supermarket by driving flying cars, either in the front seat of their own vehicle or by riding the high life in taxis.
The electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) concept, first mooted in the US by space agency Nasa in 2001, has now caught on and there’s a race among numerous large and small businesses to get the first road-worthy vehicle in the sky.
Here’s a list of the companies working on bringing flying cars to a driveway near you.
Who’s building flying cars? Bell
Bell Helicopter, a Texas company founded in 1935, is working on an “air taxi” concept that would use Uber’s planned aerial service.
Known as the Bell Nexus, the hybrid-electric vehicle is designed with six tilting ducted fans to take-off and land vertically from a rooftop or launchpad.
Unveiling the idea at the CES 2019 consumer tech conference in Las Vegas this week, Bell president and CEO Mitch Snyder said: “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension – and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold.
“The industry has anticipated the reveal of our air taxi for some time, so Bell is very proud of this moment.
“We believe the design, taken with our strategic approach to build this infrastructure, will lead to the successful deployment of the Bell Nexus to the world.”
Who’s building flying cars? Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce‘s flying taxi, unveiled at the Farnborough International Airshow in July last year, could carry up to five people at a speed of about 250mph for distances of an estimated 500 miles.
The firm aims for the design to be adapted for personal and public transport, as well as logistics and military applications.
Built with the Rolls-Royce M250 gas engine found in light fixed-wing aircraft, it would use turbines to generate electricity for six electric propulsors – meaning it won’t require recharging as the batteries would be powered by the M250 turbines.
Once cruise height is reached, the company said propellers on the wing fold away to reduce drag and cabin noise. The aircraft would then switch to two rear propellers for thrust.
It is expected to be in full production by 2020, with the company going public at Farnborough International Airshow to seek partners that could build an airframe and develop electrics.
Who’s building flying cars? BlackFly
Canadian start-up Opener revealed in July 2018 it was working on a new flying car called BlackFly.
The project is backed by Larry Page, the Google co-founder.
The one-person plane can travel for up to 25 miles at a speed of 62mph and will not require the pilot to have a licence because it can be operated using a simple joystick, although they will be expected to have training.
The aircraft will be powered by eight propulsion systems, across two wings, and it can take off from the water and grass – but there was no mention of tarmac.
BlackFly can charge in less than 30 minutes and has an automatic “return to home” feature.
Who’s building flying cars? Kitty Hawk
American aircraft manufacturer Kitty Hawk is also working with Google co-founder Larry Page on building a flying car.
Like BlackFly, the firm says its drivers will not need a pilot licence to drive the electric aircrafts.
Named Cora, the craft has already taken off and landed in New Zealand as there’s plans to start a new phase of evolution.
It has collaborated with New Zealand aviation company Zephyr Airworks to work on the project.
Cora will be powered by 12 electric fans, which produce around 522,000 watts and can travel up to 110mph, in silent cruise mode.
Kitty Hawks could be the first to release flying cars, as it expects to have up to 20 aircrafts in New Zealand by the end of 2019.
Who’s building flying cars? VRCO NeoXCraft
Nottingham-based aviation start-up VRCO – an acronym for Vehicle Redesign Company – has joined forces with the University of Derby to work on an electrically powered multi-modal craft.
NeoXCraft, able to travel by road, water or air, will have four large ducted fans rotating at 90 degrees to become wheels for driving on the road.
Using four-high powered fans, it could reach up to 200mph in the air, costing an estimated £1.5m and be made available as early as 2020.
It could carry up to two people with a maximum weight of 180kg. Although it will be developed to have autonomous capability, it is initially pitched as a piloted craft to meet regulations.
The flying vehicle could also go as high as 3,000ft for around an hour, with flight controllers capable of managing each individual engine.
The NeoXCraft is one of the only flying crafts being planned that has the option of road use.
Who’s building flying cars? Uber Elevate
Uber is taking its ride-hailing services to the skies and while it is working with companies like Bell, it has plans for its own flying taxi too in Dubai, Dallas and Los Angeles as soon as 2020.
The Elevate project offers a light-aircraft ride-sharing service to commuters.
The initial flights will have human pilots, but it hopes to eventually have pilotless planes.
Uber has said it has an agreement with Nasa to work out its air traffic control issues.
The app-based taxi firm said it will invest £17.5m over the next five years and is working with Ecole Polytechnique University on a number of research projects for the air taxis.
Who’s building flying cars? Airbus – Vahana
European aerospace giant Airbus successfully tested its EVTOL autonomous drone in March 2018.
Named Vahana, the all-electric, self-piloted aircraft, was introduced in 2016.
It recently completed its first flight in January 2018 for a duration of 53 seconds, rising to a height of 16ft.
The craft has special sensors that can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircrafts.
The small plane, designed to carry a single passenger, has wings and a tail section that rotates from vertical to horizontal during take-off and landing.
With more testing to be completed, the goal for Vahana is to have its autonomous flying car on the market by 2020.
Who’s building flying cars? Lilium Jet
Lilium Aviation is a German company , which owns Lilium Jet.
The Lilium Jet is a five-seat canard light sport aircraft, with 12 flaps each fitted with three electric jet engines.
The flaps will allow the aircraft to take off vertically and transit to level flight as the flaps are moved.
The Lilium Eagle, an unmanned two-seat proof of concept model, was tested in Germany in April 2017.
There’s plans for the electrically-powered five-seater version of the jet to launch in the future, and would be targeted as a sky taxi service.
Promising to “change travel forever”, passengers will be able to use the small crafts anytime and fly anywhere.
It also claims to reduce one-hour commutes from home to work down to 15 minutes.
Commuters can request a jet using the mobile app and it will be ready within a few minutes.
The Lilium jets are said to have zero operational environmental impact, being 100% emission-free.
The company plans to have its first functional jet to take off by 2020.
By 2025, Lilium hopes to have the on-demand air transport up and running.
Who’s building flying cars? Joby Aviation
California-based Joby Aviation, which recently received a $100m (£75m) investment from Toyota, is working on its own electric flying taxi programme.
It has also received funding from Intel and airline Jet Blue.
The small aircraft will have a flight speed twice that of a helicopter.
It will have five seats and be capable of flying 150 miles on a single charge – while apparently 100-times quieter than conventional aircraft during take-off and landing.
Joby Aviation is now working on an app, where those wanting to travel can book a flight with one click.
Who’s building flying cars? Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept
The British supercar manufacturer is working on a futuristic personal aircraft that could hit speeds of 200mph – enabling owners to travel from Birmingham to London city centres in half an hour.
The three-seater craft has vertical take-off and landing capabilities (VTOL) and uses both autonomous piloting and hybrid-electric technology.
Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman said: “We are at the beginning of a new generation of urban transportation, vertical mobility is no longer a fantasy.
“We have a unique chance to create a luxury concept aircraft that will represent the ultimate fusion of art and technology.
“We have used forms and proportions that express the same devotion to design, engineering and beauty that shape our cars.”
Rolls-Royce, Cranfield University and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions are also involved in the project, which is currently in the design phase.
But there are hopes a flying version could be showcased at the show next year.