BlackFly is frequently referred to as a flying car. Engineers and entrepreneurs such as Leng have spent the last decade developing a new kind of aircraft: electric vehicles capable of taking off and landing without a runway.
It was sleek, cone-shaped, and slightly perplexing — exactly what Hollywood would give a sci-fi villain for a speedy escape. It was a plane, not a helicopter. Additionally, it was not an aeroplane. It was a hybrid of the two, with a curving hull, two small wings, and an array of eight rotating rotors across its nose and tail. Engineers and entrepreneurs such as Leng have spent the last decade developing a new kind of aircraft: electric vehicles capable of taking off and landing without a runway. They believe these vehicles will be less expensive and safer than helicopters, allowing virtually anyone to fly over congested city streets.
“Our objective is to rid the world of traffic,” Sebastian Thrun, another engineer at the forefront of this movement, explained. The majority of specialists think that this fantasy is a long way from reality. However, the concept is gaining popularity. Numerous businesses are currently manufacturing these aircraft, and three have recently decided to go public in transactions valued at up to $6 billion. For years, individuals such as Leng and Thrun kept their prototypes hidden from the rest of the world — few have seen them, let alone flown in them — but they are now beginning to tear the veil.
Opener, Leng’s company, is developing a single-person aircraft for rural use — essentially a private flying car for the wealthy — that could begin sales this year. Others are developing larger vehicles with the goal of deploying them as city air taxis by 2024 — a sort of Uber for the skies. Some are developing self-flying cars.
Thrun, the Stanford University computer science professor who founded Google’s self-driving car project, runs one of the air taxi businesses, Kitty Hawk. He now asserts that autonomy will be significantly more potent in the air than on the ground and will pervade our daily life considerably sooner. “You can fly in a straight path without the tremendous weight or stop-and-go of a car,” he explained.
The rise of the flying car follows that of self-driving automobiles in both positive and negative ways, from massive ambition to multibillion-dollar investments to fierce corporate competition, which includes a high-profile lawsuit alleging intellectual property theft. Additionally, it recreates the massive hype.
This is a dangerous comparison. Google and other self-driving startups have failed to deliver on the grand promise that robo-taxis would be zipping through our cities by now, altering the economy substantially. However, investors and transportation firms continue to pour billions of dollars developing flying cars. This has not deterred cities from making partnerships that they believe will result in the establishment of massive networks of air taxis. And that has not deterred engineers from pressing on with their plans to transform science fiction into reality.
“It is Going to take Longer than People think?”
Thrun sees more than the trees, hills, and crags of the California test site when he watches his flying vehicle — Heaviside — rise from its own grassy landing pad. He envisions a future American suburbia in which his plane transports people to their front doors. Yes, regulatory impediments and other practical concerns exist. These aircraft will require landing strips and may have difficulty navigating congested urban areas due to power wires and other low-flying aircraft. Additionally, there is the noise factor, which is a critical selling feature in comparison to noisy combustion engine helicopters.
Thrun spoke about how quiet the aeroplane was from a few hundred feet away, but as it took off, he was forced to cease talking. He was inaudible above the whir of the rotors. Despite this, Thrun thinks Kitty Hawk will establish a ride-hailing service like to Uber, in part due to simple economics. Heaviside is considerably more expensive than BlackFly; Thrun estimated that manufacturing expenses are over $300,000. However, with a ride-hailing service, businesses can spread the expense across a large number of riders.
Future of Flying Cars
Some believe that these companies may struggle to launch services by 2024 even with pilots in the cockpit. “There is a significant gap between flying an aeroplane and being ready for revenue,” said Dan Patt, a former Department of Defense employee who worked on comparable technology.
Flying cars may be commercially available within the next several years. However, they will neither resemble or operate in the same way as the flying cars in “The Jetsons.” More likely, they will operate similarly to helicopters, with pilots transporting passengers between landing pads for a fee. They will be more environmentally friendly and require less maintenance than helicopters. They will be a little more subdued. Additionally, they may become more affordable in the future. They may even be able to fly independently one day.