Tech

Flying cars are never going to happen

Keep dreaming.

No, you will not one day take a flying car to work.

Flying cars — thrust back into the spotlight thanks to the unveiling of Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk Flyer — have long resided in the realm of science fiction. And, let’s be real, will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future. No matter what the latest and richest tech CEO claims, possessing a single device that functions as both a car and a plane will only serve to make you the proud owner of a bad automobile and a worse aircraft.

Because while yes, the two types of vehicles are both designed to transport people, they do it in fundamentally different ways (duh). Being good at one sort of precludes you from being excelling at the other. And there’s the rub — who’s going to buy a janky flying car when a perfectly safe self-driving car will do (as it soon will).

We need only look back to the 1960s to see why the use of flying cars will never catch on. Industry has tried combining disparate forms of transportation before, and it worked out as poorly then as it would today.

Take, for example, the Amphicar Model 770. Almost 4,000 of these boat/car hybrids were produced between 1961 and 1965, yet the idea never caught on. Perhaps one contributing factor is that the Amphicar neither excelled as a car (topping out around 70 mph) nor as a boat (it frequently leaked).

"We like to think of it as the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road," John Hein, the owner of one such monster, once put it.

Another Amphicar enthusiast, President Lyndon Johnson, used it to prank unsuspecting passengers by driving into a lake while he complained about the brakes. This is exactly the sweet spot a flying car would land in today: impractical, inefficient, and merely a plaything of the rich.

In the clouds

Now, you may be shaking your head and saying "but wait, flying cars already exist!" And sure, that’s true. The Slovakian startup AeroMobil intends to sell a vehicle that doubles as both a plane and a car by 2020, but you’re never going to take one to work. How can I be so sure? Well, just like with a more traditional plane, the AeroMobil needs a runway to take off.

Do you have one of those in your backyard? How about a landing strip at work? Didn’t think so.

Also, the AeroMobil is expected to cost between €1.2 million and €1.5 million ($1.3 million and $1.6 million). You could buy a single-engine Cessna and any number of cars for less than that.

So if not the AeroMobil, what about something smaller like Google co-founder Larry Page’s KittyHawk? While that newly unveiled device does fly, it’s designed to only operate over water and is more bumper-boat than car.

A prototype vehicle from Lilium Aviation comes closer to the dream with its vertical take-off and landing, but it’s essentially an electric plane. Crucially, can you imagine 45,000 of these flying over New York City? The NYPD would have a heart attack.

Back down to Earth

While traditional ground-based cars have their own safety problems, flying cars present an entirely new set of concerns.

“If somebody doesn’t maintain their flying car, it could drop a hubcap and guillotine you,” observed Elon Musk in an interview with Bloomberg. “Your anxiety level will not decrease as a result of things that weigh a lot buzzing around your head.”

And that doesn’t even touch on the air-traffic control nightmare that a sky full of people texting and flying would represent.

If you really want to fly something, your best bet is still going to be to get a pilot’s license. If you’re just looking to cut down on your commute and had hoped flying cars might provide the answer, try moving closer to the office. It’s a time-tested approach guaranteed to deliver results.

This is all to say that while the technology for personal flying cars may be just around the corner, or even already here, the vehicles themselves are never going to be adopted on a meaningful scale — no matter how much you want them to.

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