Assessing the Sustainability of Flying Cars

By May 4, 2020blog

Ever since the dawn of aviation, people have eagerly awaited the advent of flying cars. Such an invention would make daily flying a possibility for many people. The popular animated series of the 60s, The Jetsons, shows a future where daily commutes through flying saucers and cars are the norm. The crucial question is: how far are we from flying cars? Are they even feasible?

VTOL Technology

One study has tried to answer this question. Unfortunately, the results are not genuinely encouraging. The study found that vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (better known as VTOLs) is not feasible for the typical commutes of most people. VTOLs can take off like helicopters, and yet, they have the aerodynamic speed and efficiencies of standard aircraft. 

The published study appears in the journal Nature Communications by researchers from Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan. However, the study did find that VTOLs are better suited and more feasible for long-distance travel. The study casts light and provides information on a critical area of research. There are several companies worldwide endeavoring to develop VTOLs that are feasible and economical.

Flying cars will prove to be a boon for congested and crowded cities that face high traffic volumes daily. They will be highly suitable for places that are geographically difficult to access. For such situations, flying cars will be able to bypass all obstacles on land easily. Flying cars, when launched, may also become an exciting service offering of ride-hailing companies. 

VTOL Competitive Edge

The lead author of the study expressed surprise that VTOLs could be competitive for long-distance travel in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption. Fully occupied VTOLs may be more efficient than cars carrying the same number of people on long-distance journeys. Researchers calculate that traveling from Detroit to Cleveland and from San Francisco to San Jose will be more viable utilizing VTOLs than conventional cars.

After considering factors like time-saving, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy use, researchers determined that VTOLs produce zero emissions during flight; they do require energy input to recharge their batteries through power plants.

VTOL Performance

A 100 km journey is more economical and faster through a VTOL trip versus a car with a vehicle occupancy of 1.5 passengers. VTOLs generate 52% fewer greenhouse emissions compared to gasoline-powered vehicles and 6% fewer emissions than battery-powered cars.

Researchers say their findings could serve as a guide for the development of sustainable VTOL technology that will one day make flying cars a reality. 

The development of such technology is imperative and long overdue. Transportation systems around the world have to face increasing passenger loads and congestion.