Within two years, an 18-rotor battery-powered helicopter will be on sale to rich commuters who dream of open skies instead of gridlocked highways.
After slipping into the pilot’s seat, I am handed a sick bag – “just in case” – and given about 5 minutes of flight instructions. Then, despite never having flown a plane, I take off vertically in my futuristic aircraft and explore the UK city of Liverpool from the air, touching down in the centre circle of the pitch at Anfield, Liverpool Football Club’s stadium. Sadly, I was only flying in the virtual world at the controls of a motion flight simulator, which sways and pitches to mimic real flight – hence the sick bag. But this was a simulator with a difference: it was running an early version of an easy-to-use control system that its developers say could form the basis of a much-maligned concept: the flying car.
Personal air vehicles have a long and chequered history. Cars that transform into aircraft are the usual approach: another prototype of this kind will be launched by Aeromobil of Bratislava, Slovakia, at a technology conference in Vienna next week. But “roadable aircraft” have failed to take off since the 1950s, not least because they still need to fly from an airport. They can’t replace cars and so do nothing to ease road congestion, says Heinrich Bülthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany. What’s needed is a vertical take-off system that can fly point to point, he says.
That might be closer than it seems. Before the end of the year, a firm called E-Volo in Karlsruhe, Germany, says it will make its first piloted flight with an easy-to-fly vertical take-off aircraft called the Volocopter. Via Personal helicopter will be as easy to drive as a car