Until now, they've been a concept limited to sci-fi movies but a number of companies are building flying cars - including Rolls-Royce, Uber and Airbus
Stuck in mile-long queues during rush-hour traffic is the bane of many people’s everyday lives – but they may well have a chance of escaping the jams one day soon should flying car manufacturers have their way.
Once a distant sci-fi dream most likely to be found in Hollywood movies, these futuristic vehicles could be the next big trend in the hybrid worlds of aviation and automotive.
As early as 2020, commuters could be able to travel from their homes to work or the supermarket by flying cars, either in the front seat of their own vehicle or by riding the high life in taxis.
The vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) concept is catching on and there’s a race among numerous large and small businesses to get the first road-worthy vehicle in the sky.
Here’s a list of the manufacturers working on bringing flying cars to a driveway near you.
A-Z list of flying car manufacturers and their concepts
European aerospace giant Airbus launched its Vahana electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) autonomous drone concept in 2016.
It was one of the first key projects of A3, its Silicon Valley innovation centre that aims to “solve big problems”.
The company says it envisions Vahana being used by everyday commuters as a “cost-comparable replacement for short-range urban transportation like cars or trains”.
The all-electric, self-piloted aircraft completed its first flight in January 2018 for a duration of 53 seconds, rising to a height of 16ft.
A full transition flight was then completed in May 2019, in which the vehicle demonstrated its full capability and reached 90 knots (104mph).
It has special sensors that can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircraft.
The small craft, designed to carry a single passenger, has wings and a tail section that rotates from vertical to horizontal during take-off and landing.
With more testing to be completed, the goal for Airbus is to use lessons from Vahana and a second craft it has built to develop a future market-ready model.
Aston Martin Volante Vision Concept
The British supercar manufacturer is working on a futuristic personal aircraft that could hit speeds of 200mph – enabling owners to travel from Birmingham to London city centres in half an hour.
The three-seater craft has VTOL capabilities and uses both autonomous piloting and hybrid-electric technology.
Aston Martin chief creative officer Marek Reichman said: “We are at the beginning of a new generation of urban transportation, vertical mobility is no longer a fantasy.
“We have a unique chance to create a luxury concept aircraft that will represent the ultimate fusion of art and technology.
“We have used forms and proportions that express the same devotion to design, engineering and beauty that shape our cars.”
Rolls-Royce, Cranfield University and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions are also involved in the project, which remains in the design phase.
Bell Helicopter’s Bell Nexus
Bell Helicopter, a Texas company founded in 1935, is working on an “air taxi” concept that would use Uber’s planned aerial ride-hailing service.
Known as the Bell Nexus, the hybrid-electric vehicle is designed with six tilting ducted fans to take-off and land vertically from a rooftop or launchpad.
Unveiling the idea at the CES 2019 consumer tech conference in Las Vegas in January 2019, Bell president and CEO Mitch Snyder said: “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension – and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold.
“The industry has anticipated the reveal of our air taxi for some time, so Bell is very proud of this moment.
“We believe the design, taken with our strategic approach to build this infrastructure, will lead to the successful deployment of the Bell Nexus to the world.”
The company’s vice-president of innovation Scott Drennan then told the HAI Heli-Expo aerospace event in Atlanta, Georgia, that Dubai, Dallas and Los Angeles were cities where Bell Nexus could operate at first.
He said it would have a flight duration of about one hour before it needed refuelling, while there would be initial capacity for one pilot and four passengers.
Regulatory certification could be given in the mid-2020s if all goes to plan, he claimed, and there are plans to make the vehicle fully autonomous eventually.
California-based Joby Aviation, which received a $100m (£75m) investment from the Toyota AI Ventures in February 2018, is working on its own electric flying taxi programme.
It has also received funding from Intel and airline Jet Blue.
The small aircraft will have a flight speed twice that of a helicopter, according to the company.
It will have five seats and be capable of flying 150 miles on a single charge – while apparently 100-times quieter than conventional aircraft during take-off and landing.
Joby Aviation is also working on an app, where those wanting to travel can book a flight with one click.
Although the start-up hasn’t released much information, executive chairman Paul Sciarra – the co-founder of social media platform Pinterest – said he aims to save people an hour each day in travelling and has placed significant emphasis on making flying cars affordable.
Writing in a blog post after the Toyota funding was announced, he said: “We’ve been working toward a future where you can book a flight on one of our vehicles with one click.
“It’ll pick you up from a nearby vertiport and fly you safely to your destination.
“You’ll get there at least five-times faster than driving, with zero emissions.”
Kitty Hawk Cora
American aircraft manufacturer Kitty Hawk is working with Google co-founder Larry Page on building a flying car.
The Californian company, named after the North Carolina airfield in which the Wright Brothers completed their first controlled flight, says its drivers will not need a pilot licence to fly the electric aircraft as it will be run on autopilot under supervision by a remotely-based human pilot.
Named Cora, the two-seater craft has already taken off and landed in New Zealand in tests.
It will be powered by 12 electric fans, which produce about 522,000 watts and can travel up to 110mph in silent cruise mode.
Kitty Hawk has collaborated with New Zealand aviation company Zephyr Airworks to work on the project, while it was announced in June 2019 that Boeing’s NeXt division is helping the company to understand how autonomous and piloted aircraft can share airspace.
Lilium Aviation’s Lilium Jet
German company Lilium Aviation is building a five-seater canard light sport aircraft called Lilium Jet, with 12 flaps each fitted with three electric jet engines.
The flaps will allow the aircraft to take off vertically and transit to level flight as the flaps are moved.
The Lilium Eagle, an unmanned two-seat proof-of-concept model, was tested in Germany in April 2017.
In May 2019, it then tested its full-scale, five-seater version of the jet – which would be used as a sky taxi service.
Promising to “change travel forever”, passengers will be able to use the small crafts anytime and fly anywhere.
It also claims to reduce one-hour commutes from home to work down to 15 minutes.
Passengers can request a jet using the mobile app and it will be ready within a few minutes.
The Lilium Jet is said to have zero operational environmental impact, being 100% emission-free.
By 2025, Lilium hopes to have the on-demand air transport up and running in multiple cities.
Japanese electronics firm NEC tested its flying car in front of media by showing off its ability to hover steadily for about a minute using four giant propellers on 5 August 2019.
It reached about 10ft off the ground within a cage at one of the company’s factories in Abiko, Japan.
Engineers have spent about a year developing the vehicle, which weighs 150kg and is almost 13ft long.
The machine is designed for unmanned flights for deliveries, disaster relief operations and to connect islands in the Mie resort area, which is often visited by celebrities.
NEC is following the Japan’s ambition to be a world leader in autonomous flying.
The government wants to ship goods using flying cars and drones by 2023, and allow people to ride in the vehicles in cities by the 2030s.
Canadian start-up Opener revealed in July 2018 it was working on a new flying car called BlackFly.
Like Kitty Hawk, the project is backed by Larry Page, the Google co-founder.
The one-person plane can travel for up to 25 miles at a speed of 62mph and will not require the pilot to have a licence because it can be operated using a simple joystick, although they will be expected to have training.
The aircraft will be powered by eight propulsion systems, across two wings, and it can take off from the water and grass – but there was no mention of tarmac.
BlackFly, which Opener claims would cost the same amount as an SUV, can charge in less than 30 minutes and has an automatic “return to home” feature.
Rolls-Royce‘s flying taxi, unveiled at the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2018, could carry up to five people at a speed of about 250mph for distances of an estimated 500 miles.
The firm aims for the design to be adapted for personal and public transport, as well as logistics and military applications.
Built with the Rolls-Royce M250 gas engine found in light fixed-wing aircraft, it would use turbines to generate electricity for six electric propulsors – meaning it won’t require recharging as the batteries would be powered by the M250 turbines.
Once cruise height is reached, the company said propellers on the wing fold away to reduce drag and cabin noise. The aircraft would then switch to two rear propellers for thrust.
It is expected to be in full production by the mid-2020s, with the company going public at the airshow to seek partners that could build an airframe and develop electrics.
US company Terrafugia wants to sell “roadable” airplanes in its own bid to make flying cars a reality.
Its two-seater Transition craft can convert between drive and flight modes in less than a minute, and is able to be stored in a garage – eliminating the need for hangar storage.
Powered by a hybrid-electric engine and with a top flight speed of 100mph, its pilot would require a licence.
Terrafugia was founded by six graduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The manufacturer is further along than most other flying car concepts, with reports the Transition could go on sale by next year for about $280,000.
Uber is taking its ride-hailing services to the skies and while it is working with companies like Bell, it has plans for its own flying taxi service too.
The Uber Elevate team is working on the Uber Air project, which will offer a light aircraft ride-sharing service to commuters.
The initial flights will have human pilots, but it hopes to eventually have pilotless planes.
It claims to have an agreement with Nasa to work out its air traffic control issues.
In May 2018, Uber said it would invest 20m euros over the following five years and is working with Ecole Polytechnique University on a number of research projects for the air taxis.
The company has been bold about its plans to launch the service commercially by 2023, saying passengers could travel across a network of landing pads called “skyports” for the price of an UberX – the cheapest service on offer.
To this end, it announced in June 2019 that it intends to begin trials in Melbourne, LA and Dallas.
Derby-based aviation start-up VRCO – an acronym for Vehicle Redesign Company – is working on an electrically powered multi-modal craft.
NeoXCraft – able to travel by road, water or air – will have four large ducted fans rotating at 90 degrees to become wheels for driving on the road.
Using four-high powered fans, it could reach up to 200mph in the air, costing an estimated £1.5m and be made available as early as 2020.
It could carry up to two people with a maximum weight of 180kg. Although it will be developed to have autonomous capability, it is initially pitched as a piloted craft to meet regulations.
The flying vehicle could also go as high as 3,000ft for around an hour, with flight controllers capable of managing each individual engine.
The NeoXCraft is one of the only flying crafts being planned that has the option of road use.
Since being founded in 2015, VRCO has gone on to borrow expertise from the University of Derby and plans to build a $12.5m landing pad with a renewable energy charging system for the vehicle in a garden in Nottingham.
The company has previously gone on record saying it plans to launch a test flight this year and gain certification next year.