Metro Skyway, a subsidiary of the Tel Aviv-based Urban Aeronautics, just introduced its plans to build a four-person, hydrogen-powered “flying car” that it hopes will be buzzing above skyscrapers by 2022.
The vehicle will initially run on jet fuel, but will eventually transition to liquid hydrogen once the technology becomes commercially feasible (read: won’t explode and kill everyone). The vertical-takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, nicknamed the CityHawk, will utilize Urban Aeronautics patented internal rotor system embedded in the fuselage to achieve flight.
“Using hydrogen simply requires crash-proof fuel tanks,” Janina Frankel-Yoeli, vice president for marketing at Urban Aeronautics, told The Verge, “but there are quite a few hydrogen-powered road vehicles that are already in use and a number of reasons why it may even be safer than jet fuel.”
But before you laugh this off as another ridiculous flying car project that will never get off the ground, you should know that Urban Aeronautics has been working on this idea for over a decade and currently has a one-ton, unmanned drone called the Cormorant doing flight tests at an air base in Northern Israel.
The Cormorant was developed for the Israeli military. The flight test isn’t much to look at, but its worth noting that when landing, the Cormorant identifies a marker on the tarmac and touches down autonomously alongside it. The vehicle has come a huge way since the first test of its predecessor, the AirMule, in Israel in 2004.
Metro Skyways says the CityHawk will be similar in design to the Cormorant, but rather than hauling military equipment, it will be carrying passengers. The Cormorant 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. The company is hoping to take some of these features, as well as the Cormorant’s autonomous features, and carry them over to the CityHawk.
But will this thing even be allowed to fly? Metro Skyways is convinced that its flying taxi concept will be fully compliant with both US and European aviation safety standards. But those respective regulatory agencies have yet to even take up the issue of VTOL aircraft, let alone set standards to regulate their safety.
That said, experts are convinced that VTOL technology is about to (pardon the pun) take off in a big way. Airbus, which is working on its own “Vahana” flying car, is holding a major “urban air mobility” conference in Washington, DC, this week. And next week, Uber is convening a bunch of experts in Dallas to discuss the possibility of establishing the world’s first on-demand aviation network.
But as you can tell by looking out any window right now, flying cars don’t exist yet. We haven’t really even seen a halfway decent prototype. Numerous challenges lay ahead, such as noise level, battery life, and air-traffic restrictions, before we can reasonably expect to see any flying cars, let alone flying Ubers, soaring through the skies.