Flying cars to take off? Americans want a parachute

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times

San Francisco — Flying cars are beginning to look less like science fiction these days, with big companies and small startups developing working prototypes. Nothing’s commercially available yet, but experts say highway vehicles with wings are possible over the next five to 10 years.

The Slovakian company AeroMobil unveiled its version of a flying car, a light-framed plane with wings that back, and is boosted by a hybrid engine and rear propeller, Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Monaco. It costs up to $1.6 million, and requires a pilot’s license to operate.

A Slovakian company called AeroMobil unveiled on Thursday its version of a flying car, a light-framed plane whose wings can fold back, like an insect, and is boosted by a hybrid engine and rear propeller.

It will be available to preorder as soon as this year but is not for everyone: besides the big price tag — between $1.3 million and $1.6 million — you’d need a pilot’s license to use it in the air.

What do consumers think? Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Worldwide Transportation Program conducted a nationwide survey and found:

This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo, Israel, late in 2016. The company says the aircraft can fly between buildings and below power lines, attain speeds up to 115 mph, stay aloft for an hour and carry up to 1,100 pounds.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are familiar with the concept of flying cars — though, curiously, 78 percent of men surveyed were familiar compared with 53 percent of women.

The most likely benefit of flying cars: shorter travel time, according to three-quarters of those surveyed.

The AeroMobil has a driving range of about 62 miles and a top speed of 99 mph. When flying, its maximum cruising range is 466 miles, and it takes about three minutes for the car to transform into a plane.

“You can use it as a regular car,” said Juraj Vaculik, co-founder and CEO of Aeromobil, at the unveiling in Monaco. Though it is not legal — yet — to take off from a highway.

A woman poses near the "Pal-V Liberty" flying car, a gyrocopter with three wheels and a retractable rotor, on display as part of the "Top Marques" show, dedicated to exclusive luxury goods, on April 20, 2017 in Monaco. Slovak and Dutch companies present prototypes of futuristic flying cars at the Top Marques luxury showcase event in Monaco.

About 63 percent said they’re “very concerned” about flying car safety, but the other 37 percent said they’re not.

What about flying cars in congested airspace, or flying cars in poor weather? The breakdown is similar.

Flying at night? Not a problem. Less than half are “very concerned.”

Several companies are working on flying cars, either like Aeromobil’s two-seater that needs a runway, or others that function more like helicopters, lifting off vertically. But not many companies are seriously looking at marketing these vehicles anytime soon, Mawby said.

Most respondents — 83 percent — would prefer vertical launch to taking flight runway-style. (The survey didn’t ask, but earth-bound cars and truck drivers may feel even more strongly about it.)

Nearly 80 percent said a parachute would be “very” or “extremely” important.

This artist rendering provided by Airbus shows a vehicle in their flying car project, Vahana. Inventors and entrepreneurs have tried and failed to make the dream of a flying car a reality, but that may be changing. Nearly a dozen companies around the globe, some of them with deep pockets like Airbus, are working to develop personal aircraft that let people hop over crowded roadways.

SurveyMonkey polled Americans 18 and older from its respondent database and received 508 fully completed surveys. The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level for the overall results is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Associated Press contributed.