A prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist once said, “We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.” Peter Thiel may finally get his wish, and he’ll have a team of inventors in Slovakia to thank.
Juraj Vaculik and Stefan Klein have come up with what they call the “world’s most advanced flying car.” They say the vehicle can drive on standard roads, and upon reaching an open space of 200 meters, or about the length of two American football fields, spread its wings and take off.
The entrepreneurs, who founded a company called AeroMobil to work on the project, presented a stationary version of their newest prototype in Vienna this week. The vehicle seats two and runs on regular fuel. Because it’s capable of taking off from a ground speed of 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour, it shouldn’t require an airport, and can fly as far as 700 kilometers, about the distance from New York to Toronto.
“Some people may think that this is a boy toy,” Vaculik tells reporters at the Pioneers Festival, an annual conference for startup companies in Vienna. “But we truly believe that this will change personal transportation.”
The idea of combining airplanes with automobiles goes as far back as 1917, when the Curtiss Autoplane debuted at an expo in New York. But the prospect of a flying car in every garage remains as elusive as The Jetsons’ robot maid.
Even if AeroMobil manages to create a safe, reliable and affordable car with wings, getting it onto the market is another matter. Governments haven’t been particularly receptive to the idea of allowing an alien-looking car from Slovakia to take flight from their highways, says Vaculik, AeroMobil’s chief executive officer. He blamed permit restrictions for the cancellation of a public test flight that was supposed to take place at the festival this week. Instead, a video was playing on screens behind the grounded prototype, which stood on an indoor stage and was shown popping out its wings.
Vaculik is optimistic about getting permission to sell flying cars in countries with more lenient regulations, such as Australia, Brazil and parts of the Middle East. He says AeroMobil plans to target well-off commuters, but the product is at least two years away from being ready. “There’s 100 years of bureaucracy for the air and 100 years of bureaucracy for the road,” Vaculik says.
As a student, Vaculik fought against communism. Later, he worked in advertising before joining Klein in his quest to build a flying car, according to AeroMobil’s website. Klein, an engineer, says he started to build the winged car 25 years ago in his garage. He used to be a department head at Slovakia’s Academy of Fine Arts and Design. Klein also worked on an excavator for a Swiss company and a golf cart for a Polish company, according to his official biography.
AeroMobil has taken care to craft a vehicle that’s modern-looking and visually appealing, Vaculik says on the sidelines at Pioneers Festival. “If it isn’t a beautiful piece of design, people will not want it.” When it does go on sale, the AeroMobil won’t come cheap. Buyers should expect to pay the price of a “super-luxury roadster,” plus that of a small airplane, Vaculik says.