Flying cars could cut emissions, replace planes, and free up roads – but not soon enough | 4/9/2019 | Staff
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When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was released 50 years ago, flying cars were a flight of fancy. Now, these futuristic vehicles are entering the outer fringes of reality. According to a new study published in Nature, for some journeys flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while also reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.

However, gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars' promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion – if at all.

Car - Road - Car - Planes - Reputation

It might at first seem crazy that a flying car could be more efficient than a road car, especially when conventional planes have such a reputation as gas guzzlers. But flying isn't inherently inefficient – after all, birds can fly between continents without eating. Of course, a small, four-passenger car isn't an albatross, but it isn't a Boeing 737 either.

There are many ways to make a car fly, but most are too problematic to get off the ground. Perhaps the most promising option is that taken in this study, based on the physics of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. They're pretty amazing beasts.

VTOL - Something - Harrier - Jump - Jet

If you've heard of VTOL, something like a Harrier Jump Jet probably springs to mind, with two huge engines directing thrust that can be tilted vertically or horizontally. But these much smaller and lighter flying cars operate differently, with lots of tiny electric fans blowing air from many places. This fast-developing distributed electric propulsion (DEP) technology is key for efficiency when cruising, and it also creates possibilities for quieter take-off and hovering, as multiple small noise sources can be better managed.

NASA’s Greased Lightning VTOL prototype in testing.

Design - Lots

Wing and propeller design can also be optimised to be long, thin, and have lots of moving...
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