When will flying cars be commercialized?

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By Emily Scott, Contributor

Flying cars are not a new concept; manufacturers have been attempting to create them since 1917, but they’ve never been commercialized. There has been a strong interest in flight since the Wright brothers’ aircraft succeeded in the early 1900s. Considering the vast number of technological innovations in the aviation industry over the years, the question remains: When will flying cars hit the market?

Flying cars are coming sooner than you’d think. PAL-V and Terrafugia, visionary companies based in the Netherlands and the United States, respectively, completed successful test flights and are slated to commercialize their vehicles in the next few years.

PAL-V’s plans for PAL-V One

PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) developed a two-seat hybrid car andgyroplane called the PAL-V One, which has blades like helicopters.

The first PAL-V One models are expected to become available in Europe in 2016 and in the United States by 2017. These models will cost between $350,000 and $650,000, and the first 50 models will be special edition.

“Other initiatives [flying cars] failed or have very little use because they were considered ’roadable aircrafts,’ ” CEO of PAL-V Robert Dingemanse said. Roadable aircrafts are hybrid land-air vehicles that have wings like airplanes.

PAL-V One steers like a car but has the agility of a motorcycle. It has Dynamic Vehicle Control (DVC) tilting technologies that automatically adjust the tilt angle of the cockpit to the speed and acceleration of the vehicle. This allows the vehicle to turn smoothly without tipping over.

“The tilting technology which we apply is unique and allows it to be a real flying car,” Dingemanse said.

PAL-V One flies below 4,000 feet, the airspace available for uncontrolled VFR (Visual Flight Rules), so it won’t interfere with commercial air traffic. It will takeoff and land from designated locations or from drivers’ properties as local ordinances permit.

“In first instances, it will be used as private transportation by people,” Dingemanse said.

Terrafugia’s Transition, a light sport aircraft

Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Sloan School of Management started Terrafugia. Carl Dietrich, CEO, was working on his Ph.D, at MIT and collaborated with fellow students to create a business plan for the flying car. Their business plan was a runner-up at a 2006 $100,000 entrepreneurship competition at the school.

Terrafugia has been working on the Transition, an airplane that has the ability to drive and is scheduled to become commercially available in 2016.

The Transition is considered a light sport aircraft. The pilot must obtain a Sport Pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 20 hours dual instruction and passing grades on Federal Aviation Administration exams. Users can drive in normal street traffic to an airport, where they can takeoff and fly up to 400 miles off the ground.

The current price of The Transition is $279,000, but it could fluctuate based on demand and manufacturing costs.

“It’s not meant to replace airliners,” Vice President of Business Development Richard Gersh said. “It’s really meant to get from Point A to Point B conveniently.”

The future of flying cars

Engineers have made tremendous advances with the flying car, but there are still a lot of bigger details that need to be worked out.

Amazon Prime Air is a service that delivers packages in 30 minutes or less via an aerial vehicle. The FAA has not approved these yet, and this is preventing flying cars from moving forward, according to MIT Aeronautical Engineering professor Missy Cummings.

“The reality is we won’t have [flying cars] in mass until there are drones for safety precautions,” she said. “It is really critical for the FAA to take the Amazon drones seriously because it’s the same infrastructure flying cars are building on.”

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