Space & Innovation

Flying Cars: The Future Is Now

That old retro-future science fiction chestnut, the flying car, is already here. In fact, there are several of them on the streets and in the skies.

The concept of the flying car is one of those iconic sci-fi notions that's endured for decades. There's a kind of retro-future vibe to the idea, conjuring mental images of space-age transport and 1950s Tomorrowland pavilions.

But actually, depending on how you define your terms, the flying car is already here -- and has been for a few years now. Here we take a look at some contemporary riffs on the flying car concept, with vehicles in various stages of development. Some are no more than concept designs at this point, but others are already on the streets and in the clouds.

Credit: Terrafugia

One of the veteran players in the relatively new flying car arena, the Terrafugia Transition has been in development since 2006. Prototypes have been flown and tested since 2012 and last year the company announced the third iteration of its folding-wing aircraft.

Credit: Terrafugia

Drivers become pilots when the Transition takes to the skies, swapping out steering wheels and pedals for stick and rudder controls. Cruising speed is about 100 mph, with a range of 400 miles.

Credit: Terrafugia

Terrafugia has plans for future aircraft, as well. The TF-X concept car features vertical take-off and landing capabilities, plus a fully autonomous piloting system. The company hopes to get the TF-X into full production within eight to twelve years.

Credit: Terrafugia

Meanwhile, over in Slovakia, designers are working on the 3.0 version of the AeroMobil, which they hope to bring to market in two or three years. The AeroMobil also employs a folding wing design, with a top air speed of 200 mph.

Credit: AeroMobil

Traditional light sport aircraft -- aimed at recreational fliers -- are quickly evolving as well. The Icon A5 doesn't morph from car to plane, but it's meant to be mobile. Folded up, the A5 can be towed on a boat trailer to the airport or lake, where it can take off from land or water.

Credit: Icon Aircraft

The Dutch PAL-V takes a different approach vector to the flying car concept. The gyrocopter design was first flight-tested back in 2009, and the hybrid vehicle is now street legal (and air legal) in several European markets. The PAL-V can travel at speeds up to 110 mph both on land and in the air.

Credit: PAL-V Europe NV

It was easy to see this one coming: At this year's Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang unveiled a passenger drone known as the 184 Personal Flying Vehicle. A scaled-up electric quadcopter, the 184 is fully automated and can carry a single passenger (up to 240 pounds) for 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight time, the company says.

Credit: Ehang

Finally, we have the Black Night Transformer, which wins the flying car naming prize, at any rate. A prototype vehicle from military design firm Advanced Tactics, the Transformer is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that combines elements of ambulance, cargo truck, helicopter and drone.

Credit: Advanced Tactics