While most vehicle manufacturers working in the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector are focused on building eVTOL air taxis and other electric or hybrid aircraft, a few companies are pressing ahead with plans for literal flying cars—vehicles that can both fly in the air and be driven on roads.
Like other eVTOLs, some of these flying cars can take off and land vertically without the need for long runways to transition from driving to flying. However, whereas the FAA and other international regulators have a pretty good idea of how eVTOLs will be certified to fly, there is currently no clear pathway to certification for these elaborate cars equipped with rotors and wings.
Xpeng Reveals Its X3 Flying Car
Just last month, the Chinese electric vehicle company Xpeng introduced what it claims could be the world’s first flying car. Xpeng, which is considered a rival to the U.S. EV manufacturer Tesla, revealed the design for its fully electric eVTOL flying car, the two-seat Xpeng X3, at its fourth annual Tech Day in Guangzhou, China, on October 24.
Xpeng also showed off at its Tech Day a working prototype of its flying car, called the X2, which has no wheels and looks more like a typical eVTOL. The company has already conducted several piloted test flights of this eVTOL aircraft, which made its first public flight in October in Dubai. Xpeng says its newer X3 model, which looks more like an actual car with eight retractable propellers, recently completed its first test flights as well.
“Subject to laws and regulations for the low-altitude airspace, [the X3] can take off and land vertically, and fly over traffic congestion, obstacles, and rivers to meet a new host of short-distance mobility needs,” Xpeng officials wrote in a company statement. However, the manufacturer did not say exactly how it plans to abide by those laws and regulations to produce a certifiable flying car, and it has not yet provided a timeline for the vehicle’s entry into service.
But that hasn’t stopped Xpeng from raising capital to fund the development of its flying car; the company announced this week that it has secured $6 billion in bank credits from four Chinese banks, and it recently closed a $500 million Series A funding round.
PAL-V Liberty Flying Car
A similar project with several more years of history is the PAL-V Liberty flying car, which is being developed by the Dutch company PAL-V International. PAL-V (short for “personal air and land vehicle”) has been working on its flying car design since 2008.
Much like the Xpeng X3, the PAL-V Liberty is a two-seat model with a foldable system of propellers that are stowed inside the vehicle when it’s being driven on the road. To transition from driving to flying mode, a large, helicopter-style rotor unfolds overhead, and a second, smaller rotor unfolds in the rear to provide forward propulsion. The full transition from ground to airborne mode takes about six minutes, according to PAL-V.
The PAL-V Liberty is more of a cross between a three-wheeled car and a gyroplane, rather than an eVTOL or a flying car. While the Xpeng X3 can take off and land vertically, the PAL-V Liberty does require a bit of horizontal space to take flight or come down. PAL-V says the Liberty needs between 70 and 200 meters (up to 656 feet) to take off, depending on headwinds, but it needs just 50 meters (164 feet) of tarmac to land. However, unlike the X3, the Liberty is already approved for road use in Europe.
PAL-V is working with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to gain airworthiness approval, and the company is seeking type certification under special conditions for the existing CS-27 rules that EASA published in 2021, which cover gyroplanes with a maximum takeoff weight of up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds).
The company aims to achieve type certification in the third quarter of 2023, with the first deliveries to customers expected by the end of that year. Operators of the PAL-V Liberty will be required to have both a regular driver’s license and a gyroplane pilot’s license
Bellwether Industries’ Oryx Flying Car
Meanwhile, in the UK, another AAM company has recently revealed a new prototype of its electric flying car. Based in London, Bellwether Industries is developing a three-seat eVTOL flying car called Oryx. Slightly bigger than an SUV but as sleek as a sports car, the Oryx is Bellwether’s third-generation personal eVTOL, a category of aircraft that the company refers to as “Volar.”
With a hidden propulsion system built into the vehicle’s frame, Bellwether’s Oryx looks a bit like a flying Batmobile—although it doesn’t have wheels, making it more of an eVTOL aircraft than a literal flying car.
Bellwether says the vehicle is mainly intended for urban air mobility (UAM), offering a new way for people to get around cities and suburbs while avoiding heavy traffic. The company claims the Oryx will be able to complete the approximately 22-mile journey from London’s Heathrow Airport to Canary Wharf in under eight minutes, whereas the same trip by car usually takes more than an hour.
Because the Oryx is not designed to drive on roads and can only fly, Bellwether’s path to certification is perhaps less complicated than that of its competitors, which are making flying cars that will share roads with other ground vehicles. Bellwether has said that it aims to bring its flying car to market in 2028 and that it is working closely with EASA and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to help make that happen.
Other Personal eVTOLs
Bellwether is far from the only company working on this type of personal eVTOL aircraft, or “flying cars” without wheels for road use. But Bellwether’s version of this kind of aircraft may be the only one that’s designed to actually resemble a car.
Other companies developing personal eVTOLs include the Israeli start-up Air, Japan’s SkyDrive, Sweden’s Jetson, and Ohio-based Ryse Aero Technologies. But most of these aircraft will not be certified to fly over densely populated urban areas.
While some are recreational aircraft intended purely for sport, others are intended for specific uses, such as surveillance of agricultural land (the Ryse Recon eVTOL aircraft). A London-based company called Airspeeder is developing flying cars intended purely for piloted air racing in rural areas. Meanwhile, SkyDrive is planning to certify its “flying car” to operate in urban areas, but the company has also said it expects the aircraft to be employed for commercial purposes, such as emergency medical transportation and tourism, rather than as private vehicles that owners can use to avoid traffic on the ground.
Whether any type of personal eVTOL will ever be certified for private use in urban areas remains to be seen. However, several companies offering personal eVTOLs for sport have already begun collecting orders and down payments from prospective customers.