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March 9, 2018updated 12 Mar 2018 8:00am

After a century of failed attempts, PAL-V hopes to make flying cars a reality

By Luke Christou

“Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come,” car-maker Henry Ford reportedly predicted in 1940.

It may have taken a little longer than Ford thought it would. However, almost eight decades on, his prediction is starting to come true.

Dutch aircraft manufacturer PAL-V is debuting the Liberty, a road-capable aircraft, at the Geneva Motor Show this week.

While a questionable one, given plenty of other companies have made the same claim, the company has dubbed the PAL-V Liberty as the “world’s first flying car”.

Capable of reaching speeds of up to 100 miles per hour on the ground 112 mph in the skies, PAL-V hopes to see its creation zipping through the air by 2020.

It complies with road safety regulations and has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency and US Federal Aviation Administration. However, buyers will require both a driving and pilot’s licence.

PAL-V seems confident that its product will be a success. It has already started taking orders on its €299,000+ flying car. Yet history suggests that the Liberty is destined to crash and burn.

A history of flying cars

1917 – Curtiss Autoplane –

The PAL-V comes a century after the first attempt to put cars in the sky. Before any attempt at creating a flying car required a tacky futuristic name and design, aircraft industry pioneer Glenn Curtiss hoped to achieve the feat by attaching wings and a propeller to a standard motorcar. Curtiss managed to get wheels off of the ground. However, the Curtiss Autoplane was never able to achieve full flight before World War I halted development.

1937 – Waterman Arrowbile –

American inventor Waldo Waterman’s attempt at a flying car did manage to achieve flight. Three Arrowbile cars travelled across the United States, embarking on a 2,000 mile journey from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio. However, the Waterman vehicle was more aircraft that could be driven that car that could be flown, which did little to attract customers.  As a result, Waterman only ever produced five Arrowbile flying cars.

1946 – Fulton Airphibian –

Created by inventor Robert Edison Fulton Jr., the Airphibian took a similar approach to the Arrowbile, creating an airplane with detachable wings, tail and propeller that transformed it into a road-safe vehicle. The Airphibian successfully took to the skies in 1946 and was the first flying car to be approved by the Civil Aviation Administration. However, financial difficulties stopped Fulton Jr. from turning the Airphibian into anything more than a prototype.

1947 – Convair –

Following the Airphibian, aircraft manufacturer Convair returned to the idea of sticking wings on top of a car. The company produced two concepts – the 116 and 118 – both of which achieved flight. However, after the second car ran out of fuel and fell out of the sky, Convair turned its attention elsewhere.

1949 – Taylor Aerocar –

After a meeting with Fulton Jr., creator of the Airphibian, aeronautical engineer Molt Taylor came up with a concept that would cut down the time it took to convert the Airphibian from plane to car. The Aerocar featured foldable wings that Taylor hopes would make it appeal more to the public. The Aerocar was approved both to fly and drive on American highways. However, despite plenty of promise, it never entered production.

1958 – Volante Tri-Athodyne –

Eighteen years on from Henry Ford’s flying car claim, the manufacturer turned its attention back to the concept. However, the 1958 Ford Volante Tri-Athodyne was never anything more than that. Ford’s concept was merely a design and a working model was never actually produced. However, it did usher in that futuristic look that modern manufacturers opt for.

1990 – Flight Innovations Sky Commuter –

Flying cars were seemingly put on hold for a number of decades until a team of Boeing engineers quit the aviation experts to attempt to finally crack the flying car. Following up on Ford’s vision of a space-age vehicle, the Sky Commuter ditched the clip on wings, offering a vehicle that required little change to switch between land and air. The company invested millions of dollars into the development of the Sky Commuter. However, just three were created before the concept was grounded.

2000 – SkyRider X2R –

MACRO Industries has been developing the SkyRider X2R since the early 2000s. The concept proposes an onboard voice control system that would allow the user to set a destination.  Despite plans to have a working SkyRider X2R prototype ready by 2005, little has been heard about the flying car since. MACRO doesn’t seem to have shelved the project, but progress has seemingly stalled.

PAL-V’s closest competitors

Until the PAL-V Liberty launches, it is no closer to being the first flying car than any other concept in development.

Unlike PAL-V, Chinese aviation manufacturer Terrafugia claims to have made the world’s first practical flying car. The Terrafugia Transition, in development since 2006, the vehicle can perform adequately both on roads and in the air, reaching speeds of up to 100 mph. Previous flights have been successful and Terrafugia is finalising the Transition for sale. They hope to begin shipping within the next three years.

AeroMobil is also giving PAL-V a run for its money. Designed by a team of 40 aviation and automotive experts, the AeroMobil will be able to transition from plane to car in three minutes. Having first left the ground in 2013, the company claims that its vehicle will be ready to ship by 2020.

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