Stefan Klein, a designer from the Slovak Republic, has announced the first flight of his Aeromobil Version 2.5, a flying car prototype he has been developing over the last 20 years. This vehicle is a strikingly beautiful design with folding wings and a propeller in the tail. But will its flight capabilities match its looks? (Photos and video)
The Aeromobil V2.5 is a propeller-driven aircraft that also functions as an automobile – or you can think of it it a car with lofty aspirations. The aviation aspects seem to be prominent in the design, with a streamlined cockpit, super light weight, and sleek tail fins in the back. Propulsion is provided by a 100 hp Rotax 912 water cooled engine mounted behind the seats, with drive shafts leading both aft to the propeller and forward to the two front wheels for driving.
This project is not the only flying car around. There is also the US-based Terrafugia, which folds up its wings vertically on the sides of the vehicle. There is also a Dutch design called the PAL-V, where the ground vehicle is a three wheeled tilting motorcycle that turns into a gyrocopter at the airport.
When the Automobil is a car, the wings are folded straight back along the fuselage and the engine drives the front wheels, while the small back wheels support the tail. There seems to be very little structure, and the entire vehicle weighs just 980 lb (450 kg) empty of fuel and passengers. There is room for two people in the very snug cockpit, and there are two steering wheels, mounted one inside the other in front of the driver/pilot. The larger wheel is for driving on the ground, and the smaller wheel is used for flying.
As shown in the video below, when the Aeromobil gets to the airport, the driver/pilot pushes a button and the wings fold out for a wingspan of 8.2 m (27 ft), which is comparable to other light sport aircraft of similar weight and power. The large flaps (moveable surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing) in this prototype flip over the wing and hang down to add lift for takeoff with the entire wing also tilting up a few degrees to assume the proper angle to the wind for takeoff.
The driver switches the gearbox to send power back to the propeller that is mounted at the very end of the vehicle between the two vertical tails. The Aeromobil then takes to the runway and accelerates for takeoff. In the video the airplane stays near the runway, as you would expect with a first flight. The airplane mode of the Aeromobil would have a top speed of 200 kph (124 mph) and a range of over 700 km (430 miles).
Klein says that in car mode the Aeromobil fits into a standard parking space and can be refueled at the same gas station as all the other cars – in other words, it does not require special aviation fuel like most aircraft. The flying car is extremely lightweight, coming in at less than half the weight of a compact car like the Ford Fiesta, which weighs 1,041 kg (2295 lbs). The structure is a steel tube frame with a carbon fiber composite shell, a configuration familiar to fans of racing cars.
The Aeromobil is a prototype intended to demonstrate to investors that the concept is viable. Klein is now shopping this striking flying vehicle to potential manufacturers and investors in order to make it a reality. Once such a deal is struck, he estimates that it would take two additional years to get certification for the Aeromobil to go into production, presumably under the existing Light Sport Aircraft rules.
Over the twenty year gestation of this flying car concept, Klien has created four different versions of his dream. The first version did not have folding wings at all, but was a boxy canard (tail first) design with tall wheels. The next versions featured the signature folding wings, but different tail configurations. Version 2.0 had an inverted V-shaped tail and this last version 2.5 was the first with two vertical tail fins enclosing the wheels. His web site shows drawings for Version 3.0.
Klein has a very interesting background, with degrees both in mechanical engineering, and in fine arts. He originally wanted to be a sculptor, but received his engineering degree first. He later studied design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, the Slovak Republic and became the head of the Department of Transport Design at that school. As a professional, he worked on car designs for Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen, and won a national design award for a three-wheeled electric scooter, which he still drives to work each day.
Flying is in the Klein family, however, and his grandfather, father and brother are all pilots. He started flying as a teenager with his brother, and today flies both powered aircraft and gliders. For the Aeromobil, he is also the chief test pilot, which in unusual in these days of large aerospace companies.
Klein calls his Aeromobil flying car “the intersection of technology and art.” You can judge this for yourself by checking out the following video in which Klein demonstrates the road driving characteristics and then shows the first flight of the Aeromobil flying car.