Is the flying car finally here?

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Is the flying car finally here?

Remember growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and believing that the year 2000 will bring teleporting devices and flying cars? The notion of flying cars has long been heralded as the zenith of technological development.

But up until now, no attempt has been successful. In 1917 aviator Glenn Curtiss unveiled the first serious attempt at such a vehicle. His aluminium Autoplane was powered by a four-bladed propeller at the rear. The Aerocar, designed and built by inventor Molt Taylor, was successfully flown in 1949.

The vehicle never went into production however, and just six examples were built. Various other flying cars appeared through the 20th century, however none were commercially successful. In 2017 Chinese manufacturer Geely bought flying car developer Terrafugia, and vowed to make its product a reality by 2021.

Later that year Mercedes-Benz invested in flying taxi and drone company Volocopter. In 2019 Porsche and Boeing joined forces for an 'urban air mobility' project. Uber is also developing its own high-flying shuttle service, known as uberAIR.

Up until now other so-called “flying car” experimental prototypes, for example those tested in the United States, have been light aircraft that can fold their wings and be driven a short distance on public roads at modest speeds.

A car without wheels

It seems the Japanese developer SkyDrive might be closer to success with the public demonstration of their “flying car" for the first time. SkyDrive is sponsored by Toyota. The most recent test took place at the brand's 10,000 square metre test field.

Taking off in the early evening, the vehicle circled the site for about four minutes. A pilot was in control of the flight's altitude, pitch, and steering. The stability was however managed by an onboard computer system.

The single-seater SkyDrive SD-03 doesn't have wheels, however the manufacturer insists it is a car. While no one can dispute its sound aeronautical capabilities, the vehicle’s status as a “car” remains slightly more controversial since the prototype doesn’t even have wheels.

It is therefore even less manoeuvrable on the ground than most planes. In fact, the SD-03 is more like a large drone that can carry one person, than a flying car. The SD-03 vehicle is powered by eight independent electric motors and has been in development since 2014.

Nevertheless, the Japanese manufacturer is adamant the SD-03 a “flying car”. A spokesperson for SkyDrive reportedly said, "before developing a prototype model with wheels, [we] would like to ensure that the incredibly difficult flight function is achieved as a first step [We] aim at driving function from late 2020." SkyDrive is targeting the launch of a commercial manned air mobility service in 2023.