on February 15th, 2024

We believed the world was progressing swiftly with technology and artificial intelligence, but the idea of flying cars was just that, an idea. While imagination previously revolved around helicopters and airplanes, the creative mind has now turned the concept of flying cars into a reality. 

The History of Flight: From Birds to Flying Cars  

In ancient times, the concept of flight took inspiration from the structure of birds. Observing birds, people envisioned a mode of travel and ingeniously utilized elements like the head, wings, and tail to craft what we now recognize as airplanes. 

The concept of flight has been a longstanding human fascination, and historical records suggest that ancient cultures, such as the ancient Chinese and Greeks, experimented with various flying devices, such as kites and the Archytas’ Pigeon. 

Eventually, the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur successfully achieved powered and controlled flight with their airplane, the Wright Flyer, on 17 December 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.  

The first helicopter
The Focke-Wulf Fw 61

Thereafter, the first practical helicopter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, made its maiden flight in 1936. It was designed by German engineer Heinrich Focke and his collaborator, Gerd Achgelis. The Fw 61 is considered one of the early successful helicopters in aviation history. 

During this period, the concept of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), emerged. One of the earliest examples is the Radioplane OQ-2, developed by actor and inventor Reginald Denny during World War 2. The Radioplane OQ-2 was a radio-controlled target drone used by the US military for anti-aircraft gunnery practice. It was first introduced in the late 1930s and saw deployment during the 1940s. 

Fast forward to 2023. The first ever flying car was born. Say goodbye to land-borne traffic!  

Fly Into The Future in PAL-V Liberty

“Our Mission is to make air mobility available for everyday use by creating sustainable and innovative air mobility products”, said CEO and Co-founder of PAL-V International BV, Robert Dingemanse. 

PAL-V’s drive is to offer people the most flexible form of mobility and the highest sense of freedom imaginable while enjoying the ride. They dedicated themselves to safely eliminating the key limitations of a car, small (gyro) plane, and helicopter simultaneously.  

By achieving this goal, they aren’t only providing customers with a means to explore the world from a different view, but they are rewriting history, turning a 100-year-old dream into reality. 

Co-founder John Bakker took up flying in 1999. He was frustrated that pilots often had to take off and land in inconvenient places, making it difficult for passengers and air staff. In addition, passengers and air staff would need a vehicle to transport them to their desired location. As explained by the marketing and sales officer of PAL-V, Beau Metz, “People have been dreaming about flying cars for 100 years – Henry Ford was one of those people. All those brilliant visionaries have been trying to create a vehicle of the future.” 

The amazing orange and black flying cars
PAL-V Liberty

So, together with Dingemanse and several dedicated team members including electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and industrial automation engineers, PAL-V International BV started designing a roadworthy aircraft in 2008. Four years later in 2012 the prototype drove and flew in compliance with the highway code and aviation legislation. In 2018, the PAL-V Liberty – the first commercial flying car – was launched at the Geneva International Motor Show. In 2022, the Liberty received its official vehicle registration for the road in full compliance with current legislation. 

The Engineering of the PAL-V Flying Car 

Exploring several concepts, PAL-V settled on combining the structures of a three-wheeled car and a gyroplane to achieve air and land speeds of 160 km/h in 2020. When flying, it uses an unpowered top rotor to produce lift, while thrust is provided by an engine-driven propeller. 

Last year, Petrol Ped conducted an overview of the Liberty, they found that initially, PAL-V designed flying cars with polycarbonate windows, the lightest option suitable for air flight. However, road regulations mandated the use of glass windows, adding 7 kilograms to the Liberty’s weight. 

Moreover, its aviation capabilities, the PAL-V Liberty weighs 670 kilograms (about 1477.1 lb), which is less than a Formula One car. 

They also discovered that the Liberty features a 100-liter fuel tank, providing a comfortable range of 600 miles for driving and three hours of flight time. “To comply with road regulations, PAL-V designed the fuel tank to prevent fuel sloshing. However, for air travel, a significant redesign was necessary, resulting in a fuel bag with a supporting framework that withstood a 30-meter drop test”, said Petrol Ped’s, Ped Greaves. 

He mentioned that considerable thought and reworking were needed for the fuel tank and the Liberty engine. That is why the current engine of the flying car is adapted from a well-known and certified aircraft engine, the 1.6-liter, four-cylinder boxer Rotax engine, commonly used in various aircraft.  

In a recent interview with PAL-V CEO, Dingemanse said to the Engineering Institute of Technology, “The primary challenge within our company lies not solely in engineering but in ensuring strict compliance with aviation and road regulations for our vehicles. While many in our industry emphasize technology, our focus from the outset has been on obtaining certification and designing within the confines of regulatory frameworks.” 

Two of these engines are utilized in the Liberty, stacked on top of one another. Just one is used in driving mode with around 100 horsepower and both engines work together at about 200 horsepower during flight mode, powering the large fan at the back to get the car moving. 

Once the company decided on a suitable engine, they had to get it certified. Certifying the engine as road-worthy involved placing it in a Porsche 924, accumulating approximately 200,000 kilometers (about 124274.24 mi) of road testing to assess factors like fuel emissions, reliability, and economy. 

Moreover, Petrol Ped said, “In the Liberty, the rotors are folded back.” This reduces any distractions from the road and any conflict that may arise with having large rotors on the road.  

In car mode, the flying car is equipped with traditional controls, including a steering wheel, shifting pedals, a gearbox, and a three-pedal setup. However, when transitioning to aircraft mode, the two outside pedals transform into rudders, and a joystick between the legs is used to control flying. All the flight controls are located on the dash, and an aviation compass is positioned close to the front window. 

The transition from road to air involves a process like a convertible/airplane. The rotors’ mast is removed, the car lifts and the wheels come down. 

After building a test vehicle in 2020, PAL-V commenced production of around 90 PAL-V Liberty Pioneer editions in 2022. It already has pre-orders in 11 countries, with 30 orders in the Netherlands alone. To reach this point, PAL-V worked with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for six years to develop certification specifications and ensure the vehicle would gain regulatory approval. 

In a remarkable leap forward, the PAL-V Liberty, a fusion of a three-wheeled car and gyroplane, has brought the once fantastic notion of flying cars into reality. PAL-V International BV’s dedication to making air mobility an everyday experience has materialized in a vehicle that seamlessly transitions from road to air, breaking free from traditional limitations.  

References  

Our drive All about PAL-V’s search for liberty 

PAL-V: The world’s first flying car 

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