Boeing unveils its flying car prototype

Airbus, Boeing and numerous other firms are working on a range of electromobility options that is defining the future of mobility.

In an inaugural test flight, Boeing Co’s prototype flying car hovered briefly in the air in a development that albeit small but is a significant step to revolutionizing urban transportation and parcel delivery services.

Other competitors in this sector includes, Airbus SE as well as numerous other firms who are intent on introducing small self-flying vehicles that have the capability of vertical takeoff and landing. Investments in this segment, fueled by leaps in autonomous technology, have the potential to change the face of the aerospace industry within the next decade.

In a statement, Boeing said, its 30-foot-long (9 meter) aircraft, which is part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing plane, lifted off a few feet off the ground and made a soft landing at an airport in Manassas, Virginia. Future flights will test forward, wing-borne flight.

“This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy,” said John Langford, president and chief executive officer of Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences.

One of the major headwinds Boeing’s vision faces is sorting out numerous critical safety and regulatory issues to meld traditional roadway traffic with fleets of flying cars. To this end, Boeing is working with SparkCognition Inc, a startup, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to develop a 3D traffic-management system for highways; it is also working with the FAA for a regulatory framework that will allow waves of autonomous vehicles to zip safely around buildings.

In 2018, Boeing acquired Manassas-based Aurora Flight Sciences to speed development of a fleet of autonomous air vehicles. With Aurora, Boeing is also collaborating with Uber Technologies Inc’s UberAIR service for flights that are planned to be available for order via smartphones around 2023.

Boeing is targeting a range of 50 miles with two flying car variants which should have a carrying capacity of up to 500 pounds (226.8 kg), equivalent to 2 to 4 passengers.

Airbus has already conducted numerous flight tests on its flying vehicle, called Volocopter; it has also tested AeroMobil, drone taxis that resemble a small helicopter powered by 18 rotors, with a stretch-limousine concept that can turn into a fixed-wing aircraft.

“The future of mobility – moving goods, moving cargo – moving people – that future is happening now and it’s going to accelerate over the next five years and ramp up even more beyond that,” said Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s president, chairman and CEO, to a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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