AeroMobil Unveils First Flying Car

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - The concept of a flying car has always seemed like an intangible hallmark of technological progress. Even when the Hollywood sleeper Blade Runner broke on to the screen in the 1980s showcasing a mocked-up version of a flying taxi (and a much younger and grittier looking Harrison Ford), the concept of a flying car seemed more fantacy than plausible.

But not any more.

Slovakian designer AeroMobil has unveiled the prototype of the world's first flying car, a sleek, two-seat vehicle that can navigate rush-hour traffic on ground as well as short hops by air. With detractable wings and a compact body, the AeroMobil 3.0 may look nothing like that clunky 3-D taxi that wowed viewers on the screen 35 years ago. According to its designers however, the first aerodynamic car is just a couple of years away from the sales floor.

"AeroMobil 3.0 is not the end of a challenging project, it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure which may change the way how we look at the personal transport in the future," said Klein at the time of the prototype's release last October.

It's also the summation of a lifelong dream for Klein, who started the project some 24 years ago while he was serving  as the head of the Department of Transport Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Slovakia. In 2010, Juraj Vaculic joined the team and the two embarked on the mission to develop the first commercially viable flying car. Vaculic now serves as the CEO of Aeromobil.

Aeromobil version 2.5 was certified by the Slovak Federation of Ultra-Light Flying in 2013 under the authorization of Slovakia's Civil Aviation Authority. Its real test however, was in September of that year, when it was shipped to the Aerotech Congress and Exhibition in Montreal, Quebec Canada and was subject to its harshest critics: future consumers.

Last October, the SFULF certified its newest version, 3.0, which according to Klein is the last test stage before the vehicle's release to commercial market.  The company says that the current prototype exemplifies most of the major characteristics that will be in the final product, including avionics equipment, autopilot and advanced parachute deployment system should emergencies occur. 

"Nobody has to jump out," Vaculic told reporters at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Tx last week. The car is equipped to take over should the driver-turned-pilot be unable to land the vehicle.

The flying roadster, as the company lightly refers to it, is being pitched as an ideal vehicle for "wealthy supercar buyers." And at the anticipated price of several hundred thousand dollars (the company hasn't released a firm figure yet), the intial market may be fairly narrow. But Vaculic noted that doesn't mean the average commuter couldn't one day envisage driving the flying roadster.

"If something like a flying Uber and flying Lyft will be on the market, I think many users will find this a very efficient way to move," Vaculic added.

The roadster is designed to run on gasoline, which means drivers can tank up at the corner gas station before embarking on a trip. Vaculic suggested that the interchangeable use as a car and a plane could also give gas station owners a commercial boost if they were to install their own landing strip for roadsters to use after a tank-up.

But the roadster has a few other unseen benefits as well. As the video demonstrates, the vehicle isn't limited to landing on paved air strips. Out-of-the-way destinations, say, to that remote lodge that is only accessible by 4x4 or plane, will be all the easier to reach. According to the company, the flying roadster is capable of traveling about 400 miles. That puts many drivers in easier reach of a weekend getaway or business meeting

There are still some hurdles to be negotiated, however. The vehicle still needs certification as a commercial plane that consumers could fly privately. Drivers/pilots would also need a pilot license to operate the roadster in the air. Ultimately, as the concept of the flying car takes off, we may see a new regulatory catagory of vehicle, said Vaculic.

It's unclear if or when the car will be sold in North America. But judging from the response it received in Montreal, and the review it has received over the past few months in publications around the world, it's likely that we'll be seeing the little blue roadster in the skies in coming years. And who knows: Perhaps companies like Lyft, Uber and other sharing models will open the way for those who don't necessarily want to own a roadster, but would really enjoy the experience of beating that rush hour gridlock a few times a week. 

Image: Aeromobil