The term flying car is a bit of a misnomer. In order to meet regulatory guidelines, many of the vehicles currently in development are more like manned drones or vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL). But, a prototype that just achieved a major milestone actually fits the flying car description.
A Slovakian company known as Klein Vision recently completed its inaugural inter-city flight between the Nitra and Bratislava airports. At the end of the 35-minute journey, the vehicle's inventor, professor Stefan Klein, clicked a button to tuck in its wings and drove the car home straight from the tarmac.
The company has been working on its hybrid aircraft for more than 30 years. With 142 successful landings and over 40 hours of test flights under its belt, Klein is convinced that his third prototype is ready to leap past the concept stage. As part of its latest breakthrough, the two-seater AirCar reached a cruising speed of 170km/h, slightly below the max 190km/h. Klein says the car has flown at 8200 ft and achieved steep 45 degree turns as part of its maneuverability testing. Unlike VTOL vehicles, the AirCar requires a runway for takeoff and landing.
The current prototype is equipped with a 160HP BMW engine with a fixed-propeller and a ballistic parachute. Klein has even bigger plans for its follow-up. He claims the 300HP pre-production model will receive the CS-23 aircraft certification for normal, utility, aerobatic and commuter aeroplanes from European aviation regulators, along with an M1 road permit.
In reality, getting there could still prove a challenge. The company will have to tread a fine line between a light aircraft and a more substantial vehicle with health and safety precautions built-in. However, there are signs that regulators are coming round to the idea of flying cars. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration recently granted Terrafugia's roadable airplane a special certificate in the light sport category (S-LSA), making it legal for flight.