Flying Car: World’s First Production Model Sees a Future in Personal Flight
Ready to take to the skies? The PAL-V Liberty Pioneer, which its creators claim is the world’s first production model flying car, was unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show on Monday. The three-wheeled machine is designed for personal ownership and usage away from cities, as its creators believe there won’t be a market for city-based flying cars for at least the next 10 years.
“The Pioneer Edition is for those that want to be part of a unique group that writes history with us,” Robert Dingemanse, CEO of Netherlands-based PAL-V, said in a statement. “They will be at the forefront of a mobility revolution, where we will no longer have cars that can only drive. They will be the first carflyers in their country, FlyDriving to any destination.”
The company plans to produce 90 of the vehicles in a limited edition run, based on the PAL-V Liberty concept demonstrated at last year’s auto show. It has two seats, a top speed of 100 mph in driving mode with acceleration to 60 mph in under nine seconds, and a top flying speed of 112 mph with an economic cruise speed of 87 mph. Switching between the two is a process that takes between five and 10 minutes, preparing the car for its next, er, “flydriving” adventure.
The concept of a flying car is nothing new, but the Liberty Pioneer could be among the first to put its viability to the test. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has been putting his Kitty Hawk project through its paces, even offering test flights. Audi and Airbus have also teamed up on a modular vehicle concept, while Uber’s VTOL white paper claimed flying could cut the trip from San Francisco to San Jose to just 15 minutes. Elon Musk, however, has warned that a city of flying cars could lead to a hubcap falling and guillotining someone.
The team claims the vehicle is safe due to its gyroplane technology, which offers a safe landing even in the case of major failure. It’s certified under Europe’s EASA and the United States’ FAA rules while also complying with relevant road regulations from the European Commission and the United States’ NHTSA. The company notes that if worst comes to worst and the vehicle stops flying, you can continue to your destination using its car mode.
PAL-V has focused on a personal vehicle rather than urban mobility for the Liberty Pioneer, as it believes there will not be a market for urban flights in the coming decade. Propellor noise remains an issue, and electric motors fail to mitigate this as the noise stems from the rotor and propeller blades.
The design also eliminates the need for new infrastructure. PAL-V claims owners will be able to fuel up at a standard gas station, park in the standard garage, and take off from most patches of grass or concrete — as long as it measures 100 to 650 feet by 60 feet. The vehicle can also land at normal airports, meaning cities won’t need to change regulations to give owners somewhere to land.
“Although more and more flying concepts are announced, only a handful of companies work on a real flying car: one that can both fly and drive, ideal for city-to-city mobility,” Mike Stekelenburg, chief engineer at PAL-V, said in a statement. “The combination offers unprecedented freedom: personal door-to-door flying mobility.”
PAL-V recommends users fuel up with Euro 95, Euro 98, or E10. The car has a 100 liter (26.42 gallons) fuel capacity, with a fuel economy of around 7.6 liters (two gallons) for every 62 miles, offering a driving range of 817 miles. Flying mode consumes 26 liters (6.87 gallons) per hour, offering a maximum range under maximum takeoff weight of 249 miles when operating with the maximum takeoff weight of 2,000 pounds.
The team chose to use a gyroplane, as it allows for safe landings in an emergency and greater versatility. Users can land with 18-mph ground speed on a small spot of just 100 feet in emergencies. The ride will be smoother, cutting 20 percent the turbulence of a fixed-wing aircraft. Takeoff distance is between 300 and 650 feet, it has a wide range of usable speeds between 30 and 112 mph, and it has a lower cost of ownership than a helicopter. Of course, drivers will need a gyroplane license to operate, which the company estimates will take around 40 hours of training.
“The gyroplane principle not only provides us with a safe and easy to operate flying car but it also enables us to make it compact and within existing regulations, which is the most important factor to build a useable flying car,” Stekelenburg said.
Unofrtunately, fans waiting for an electric version will have to wait. The company anticipates that such a version won’t surface for another 10 years, requiring boosts in battery technology and changes in regulation. That corresponds with Elon Musk’s statements, who has claimed that batteries will need to reach around 500 watt-hours per kilogram, nearly double the density of a regular Tesla battery.
In response to a question about a three or four-seater version, PAL-V states that it has a number of products in the pipeline. Whether the company succeeds in kickstarting its driving revolution remains to be seen.