MANKIND’S primordial dream of flight is taking off with a new twist as a Slovak prototype of a flying car spreads its wings.
Inspired by the dreamy books about flying by authors Jules Verne and Antoine de Saint Exupery, Slovak designer and engineer Stefan Klein has been honing his flying machine since the early 1990s.
“I got the idea to start working on a vehicle of the future at university, but honestly, who hasn’t dreamt of flying while being stuck in traffic? Flying is in my blood. My grandfather and my father flew ultra-light aircrafts and I got my pilot’s license before I was old enough to drive a car,” said Klein, who has designed cars for BMW, Volkswagen and Audi, and now teaches at the Bratislava-based Academy of Fine Arts and Design.
His elegant blue-and-white, two-seat vehicle, named “Aeromobil,” measures six meters long so it fits neatly in a parking space or a garage and tanks up at any filling station. But once it reaches an airport it can unfold its wings within seconds, becoming a plane.
Dubbed “the world’s prettiest and best-designed airborne automobile so far” by US aviation magazine Flying and Inhabitat.com design, an innovation website, the Aeromobil also has the distinction of originating in Slovakia, the world’s largest per-capita car producer.
“So far there have been about 20 attempts to manufacture a flying car around the globe,” the president of the Slovak Ultra Light Aviation Federation, Milan Ciba, said. “Among them, Aeromobil appears very viable.”
Other models include the US-based Terrafugia’s “Transition” flying car that’s expected to be launched on the market within a year, while the helicopter-type Dutch PAL-V gyrocopter could go on sale this year.
Klein’s dream took to the skies in September when he piloted the Aeromobil during its first wobbly test flight. Once airborne, the flying car can reach a top speed of 200kph and travel as far as 700 kilometers, consuming 15 liters of gasoline per hour.
“A combination of a car and a plane will always lose against the competition when we start comparing energy consumption,” said Jan Lesinsky of the Slovak University of Technology.
But would-be users could glide by long lines and security checks at airports, saving time on medium-distance journeys.
Klein and his team are currently working on the next generation of the Aeromobil, which will go into production in a few months and hopefully receive Slovak Ultra Light Aircraft Certification.
An enthusiastic pilot himself, Klein remains down to earth when looking to the future.
“I don’t expect Aeromobil to go into mass production; it will always be an alternative means of transport,” Klein said. “It can, however, be very interesting for countries with vast areas lacking infrastructure like Russia, China or Australia.”