The Paris Airshow kicks off Monday, offering the denizens of the aviation world their biennial chance to gather round. They’ll ogle the latest aerospace innovations, close deals for defense drones, and check out private jets. Airbus and Boeing will go head-to-head over over sales numbers as aircraft new and old—including the F35A fighter jet, making its public debut—roar overhead, flaunting their flying skills.
Oh, and because at some point in the past few months everyone decided personal aircraft are a real thing, Paris will feature flying cars.
One early reveal comes from Neva Aerospace, a UK-based consortium made up of five European companies that focus on all sorts of electric aviation, from drones to aerial robotic platforms.
Now these folks want to build a passenger-carrying vehicle. The AirQuadOne is just a concept at this stage, but you can tell it’s the future because it’s made of shiny white plastic, and the rider is in a spandex suit.
Yet the specs are refreshingly realistic. The aircraft uses four electric turbofans, which the consortium members have already proven in other vehicles like drones. The whole thing will weigh in at a little over 1,000 pounds, including 330 pounds for the batteries and 220 for the pilot and his funky purple suit.
That setup should yield a flight time of 30 minutes at 50 mph, Neva promises. Its 25-mile range is plenty to get from one side of a congested city to the other, it will take off and land vertically, and you’ll charge it the way you power up an electric car—just plug it in. Longer term, Neva might add a small engine to run a generator and extend the range, but that plus the fuel it would burn comes with a big weight penalty, and weight is the enemy when it comes to electric powered flight.
The AirQuadOne is just the latest in a long string of “flying car” concepts that, rather suddenly, are being taken seriously by big name, global firms. Airbus is involved with Vahana, and the modular Pop.Up. Google cofounder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk is working on the Flyer, a concept apparently ripped from a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Uber wants to launch flying cars in Dubai (where else?) in just three years.
And these companies aren’t suffering from collective insanity. Advances in battery technology mean more energy can be packed into smaller, lighter packages. New materials mean designers can dream up lightweight but incredibly strong structures, and then actually build them from composite materials.
That doesn’t mean that all the designs now getting publicity will make it to reality. Germany’s Lilium, for example, is proposing a five-passenger craft with a nearly 200-mile range and a crazy top speed of 190 mph. That’s a lot more ambitious than Neva’s specs—and less likely to materialize.
The real stumbling block for even the more realistic designs is regulation. Neva says it’s working with American and European regulators to make sure it complies with existing rules, but that may not be enough. This and other flying cars will likely need entirely new standards. The FAA has signaled it’s willing to work on that, but the process will take years.
When and if that all comes together, the folks making these aircraft just need to figure out how to make them work, commercially-speaking. There’s the George Jetson setup—private flying machines whizzing commuters to work—but also potential use cases for law enforcement patrols, for fire and emergency services to access remote areas, for workers to reach offshore rigs, for farmers to inspect distant crops, and probably a bunch that society has yet to think of.
Aviation experts think five years is a reasonable timeframe for the development of practical flying cars. Just enough time to get your body ready for its public debut in spandex.