If your memories of the past accept a "Jetsons" vision of the future, your concept of flying cars is not very accurate. But after decades of promises, it looks like flying cars are finally becoming real.
A Dutch-made mash-up of automobile and helicopter, called a PAL-V, made a splashy debut at the Geneva Auto Show.
Mark Jennings Bates, the North American representative for PAL-V, says his company has about 70 orders globally so far. "So, 2020, our first clients will get their aircraft."
And the Pal-V could be coming to America the year after that.
It takes just minutes to change from car to plane. The cost: $400,000 to $600,000. But coming up with the money won't be the only hurdle to driving (or flying) one off the lot.
If you buy one, you'll need training in a gyrocopter, and a license to fly. And the cars will need runways, albeit very short runways – about 300 feet long to get airborne, according to pilot Bob Snyder.
But some of the biggest aerospace companies are developing flying vehicles that need no runway – and no driver. Boeing has test-flown one; so has Airbus.
Bell Helicopters' air taxi is called the Nexus, designed to take off and land in the middle of a city. Michael Thacker helped design it to circumvent city traffic:
"You can be going across town to visit your grandchild. And maybe they're two hours away on the ground, and in Dallas/Fort Worth, that can be a grueling drive. But a 15-minute flight would make that something you might do more often."
Thacker says the Nexus could be flying by 2025. Rotors lift it off the ground vertically like a helicopter, and then tilt, to fly horizontally like a plane. When it's time to land, the blades tilt back, and the Nexus settles to the ground.
The FAA still has to figure out how to regulate (and separate) all this new air traffic. But Thacker believes existing satellite-based technology is sophisticated enough to keep flying taxis and flying cars from flying into each other.
Schlesinger asked, "Is the technology up to the point where you would be confident putting your wife, daughter, son, grandmother on it?"
"The answer is absolutely, and it has to be," he replied.
Of course, before anyone gets on board, all these flying taxis need space, like helipads, to take off and land. And developers on the ground have started paying attention to developments in the air. An ultra-luxurious condo building under construction in Miami advertises that its rooftop is ready to accept flying cars.
"We just don't have room to grow on our roads anymore," said developer Dan Kodsi. "And so, it's inevitable that we're gonna start seeing this Jetson-style lifestyle."
Because it's Miami, there's a swimming pool on the roof now, but prospective buyers know their building could have its own so-called "skyport" if and when flying cars become common.
Schlesinger asked, "Do the buyers take it seriously?"
"Some question it," Kodsi laughed. "I don't think people understand it enough."
It is a lot to take in; flying cars have always captured the imagination, but now they might finally capture the market.
For more info:
- Nexus: Bell Air Taxi
- Boeing's autonomous passenger air vehicle (PAV) prototype
- Airbus: Urban Air Mobility
- Paramount Miami Worldcenter Skyport
- ("Sunday Morning," 4/29/13)
Story produced by Alan Golds.