Slovakian aviation firm Klein Vision's AirCar can fly at speeds of over 100 mph (160 km/h) and reach altitudes of 8,000 ft (2,500 m). And now, it has officially been cleared to fly by the Slovak Transport Authority.
The flying car, which can switch from flight to driving mode in less than three minutes once on the ground, received a certificate of airworthiness following 70 hours of flight testing, a press statement from the company reveals.
In an interview with Interesting Engineering, Klein Vision co-founder Anton Zajac told us "the certification has demonstrated we have the skills and ability to deliver a flying car that meets the EASA safety standards and is technologically solid."
AirCar production model to begin testing this year
Klein Vision might have just gained certification, but it's not resting on its laurels; the company is gearing up to commercialization. "Our next step is to build a new prototype, which will have a new aviation engine," Zajac said. The co-founder explained that the engine has already been tested and that the Prototype 2 "will be a monocoque construction with a variable pitch propeller."
In a statement last year, Klein Vision said its Prototype 2 (P2) will feature a 300-horsepower engine and reach cruise speeds of up to 186 mph (300km/h) and it will have a range of approximately 620 miles (1000km).
"We want to start testing P2 this year and get it certified early 2023. P2 will be the production model," Zajac explained. That draws up the very real possibility that people might be able to own their own flying cars in the near future, a longer-range competitor to the eVTOL aircraft being developed by flying taxi and urban air mobility firms worldwide.
70 hours and over 200 takeoffs and landings
The certificate of airworthiness was granted to Klein Vision after the "completion of 70 hours of rigorous flight testing compatible with European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) standards, with over 200 takeoffs and landings," the company said in its statement. In June, the AirCar performed its first inter-city flight, a 35-minute trip between the international airports of Nitra and Bratislava.
The current AirCar prototype features an internal combustion BMW engine that runs on regular fuel, setting it apart from the electric VTOL aircraft taking to the skies in vast numbers. In the case of an engine failure, the AirCar deploys a ballistic parachute system. The company says it takes only two minutes and 15 seconds to transform from a car into an aircraft when on the runway.
The certification "opens the door for mass production of very efficient flying cars," Klein Vision's other founder, Stefan Klein, said in the company's statement. It is something that will "change mid-distance travel forever," he continued. It will certainly be interesting to see not only how the technology develops, but also the public response to the AirCar, especially as the aviation industry increasingly aims to curb its carbon emissions, and eVTOL flying taxi firms such as Lilium and Volocopter promise to revolutionize urban air mobility with low-emissions flight.
Boeing, for example, recently announced it will invest $450 million towards building a fully autonomous all-electric eVTOL flying taxi. Japan also recently granted its first-ever safety certification to a flying car developed by a startup called SkyDrive. However, that vehicle uses electric VTOL technology and doesn't have the ability to transform into a roadworthy car.
With that in mind, we asked Zajac how he believed the AirCar will compete with the oncoming surge of eVTOL aircraft: "AirCar is a completely different category of vehicle," Zajac replied. "Whereas AirCar is fully taking advantage of the aerodynamic forces during flight and the lifting force is generated by fixed wings and [its] lifting body, the VTOLs are [essentially] helicopters. As a result, VTOL vehicles have low energy efficiency, shorter range, and smaller cruising speeds. I believe both will be used side by side for different purposes."
The question does remain as to how many people will be willing ready to own a flying car that needs runway access for takeoff. With Morgan Stanley predicting the flying car sector will be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040 and Klein Vision having flight certification under its wings, we may be very close to finding out.