This is a vehicle capable of flight but it can also use ordinary roads to travel on. The more correct term would be: roadable aircraft. Basically it inherits certain properties of a car and airplane to combine them in one unique hybrid design.
In the past there were a lot of attempts to build a flying car with the idea that you could take off whenever and were ever you like and fly to your destination without traffic problems. In reality, after take off, you become a pilot and therefore you need not only a drivers license but a license to fly too.
With these hybrid designs there is just one problem: its neither a car or airplane. So the end result is something in between and the characteristics will probably suffer for both driving and flying.
These days, most manufacturers of 'flying cars' have some form of oversized drone developed into a vehicle capable of carrying a person. With two or more electric motors/propellers one can hardly say that these contraptions are able to fly safe while not chopping legs or arms of bystanders. Anyway, the development is fun to watch.
If you would park a car next to an aircraft you will notice several differences. And therein lies the problem. For example: aircraft use wings or rotors to create lift to be able to fly. Cars have wheels to keep them rolling and rather heavy suspension systems for a smooth ride and heavy crash impact protection systems for the occupants.
Each of these vehicles are designed and optimized for the function they are created for. Aircraft are sleek, low drag and do not have a heavy undercarriage systems for rough roads. And cars usually do not have pressurization systems to provide the passengers with air at altitude.
The engines are technically the same but different operationally. Where the aircraft engine operates at 75% or more rated power most of the time, the car engine runs at about 30% average. This different loading characteristic calls for a different design in crankshaft and bearings. And last but not least, the controls of an airplane and car are totally different too.
Some so called flying cars are based on drones but upsized to be able to carry the pilot/passenger. These mainly use electric propulsion and are as such very limited in range and endurance.
No matter how these vehicles look or on what form they are based, the moment you leave ground you become a pilot and therefore will need some sort of pilot license with all the required training, ratings, practical, theoretical and medical examinations.
And to be honest: these requirements may not be within the reach of every motorist.
In small countries, the already crowded airspace (think Europe, US around big cities) might not be very usable for these vehicles. They would become a danger to regular air traffic and to themselves, if allowed to fly freely and buzz around like annoying mosquitoes.
Allowing these vehicles to fly low and slow means they would have to look out for obstructions as high tension wires, man made towers and tall trees and what not. Aircraft usually fly high because that's the safest thing to do.
Most designs need some type and length of runway to take off. It is not realistic to think that the driver of such a flying car can escape the traffic jam and just fly away. He will not be the only one willing (or trying) to do that and the sheer chaos that would arise of drivers wanting to take off could result in very dangerous situations and possibly a high rate of serious or even deadly accidents.
Some designs need at least a reasonable length of strip to take off, probably some 200 meters plus a safe fly-in and out area clear of any obstacles. Traffic jams or roads with overhead signs are not really suitable for that.
Weather and/or night time is also a limiting factor for these flying cars, its exactly the same as for normal VFR flying. One can not expect untrained and unexperienced car drivers to act safely in adverse weather conditions. Even fully qualified pilots sometimes have their problems with weather. Think about low visibility situations, low clouds, rain or icing, thunderstorms, turbulence and night time.
With most things flying, intensive and regular maintenance is required to keep the vehicle in perfect flyable condition. Normal road cars can pull over when the engine fails, has technical difficulties or runs out of fuel, aircraft just can not. General car maintenance sometimes leaves things to be desired, which is not at all acceptable with aircraft.
After seeing so many flying car visions (or dreams) over such a long period of time not coming to any serious production numbers. We can conclude that some are no less than possible scams and other designs are just slight variations of already existing themes. But none will fulfill the ultimate flying car dream. The combination of an aircraft and car, where each have their own technical challenges and solutions, lies too far apart to become reality any time soon and maybe never.
The question that also could be asked is: if I want to go on a three week holiday with the wife, two kids and luggage; where do I put them?
See our next article which lists the designs that have been created from the past to the present.