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The Kitty Hawk Flying Car: It Flies, But Isn’t Really A Car

We’ve all fantasized about flying cars at one time or another. It might have been while we were watching The Jetsons on TV. It could have been when we kept asking “are we there yet?” and our parents kept answering that “we can’t just push the ‘up’ button and fly.” It’s probably occurred to everyone who was ever late for an appointment and sitting in a hellacious traffic jam. We’ve all had the same types of fantasies about cars that could fly.
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Google co-founder Larry Page has put $100 million into his fantasy. And in April he saw it come true – sort of – with the maiden voyage of the Kitty Hawk Flyer. Page backed the company that successfully flew the prototype over a Northern California lake, gaining worldwide publicity for a flying car which might be available commercially by the end of the year.
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The only problem? It’s not really a flying car. It looks more like a cross between a CGI Star Wars vehicle and a weekend project built in a garage.

The Kitty Hawk Flyer

For starters, the prototype has only flown over water. It’s battery-powered with eight propellers and two pontoons mounted on the underside, is extremely noisy and has just one seat. On its first flight it flew only 15 feet above the lake before touching down on a floating landing pad, not exactly the stuff of dreams or fantasies.

In all fairness, this was merely a test of the prototype. The flight was conducted over water for safety purposes, and “flying car” is really just the shorthand that Kitty Hawk engineers use to describe what’s currently an ultralight aircraft. The Flyer is of several prototypes the company is testing under FAA rules which allow recreational ultralights to fly in remote areas without licensed pilots aboard.
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The weird-looking contraption was piloted by a Kitty Hawk aerospace engineer who’s already won awards for his work on human-powered helicopters, Cameron Robertson. He says the prototype isn’t what the company expects its vehicles to look like when they come to market, they’ll be able to fly over land and will be quieter as well. But he believes the current working concept for the Flyer is more exciting than the flying cars that most people visualize.

The Competition

Kitty Hawk isn’t the only “flying car” that’s speeding toward the market. Companies from Massachusetts to Slovakia are developing their own models which can actually drive and fly. So are the French aircraft giant Airbus, and a Chinese company that’s partnered with the nation of Dubai to create a “flying taxi” service supposedly set to begin operations later this year.
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That’s not all; if you thought Uber was becoming so ubiquitous that it’s almost annoying, just wait for their “Elevate” mission which they call the “future of on-demand, urban air transportation.” Confusingly, Dubai is also one of the urban partners in Uber’s air taxi project, as is Dallas. However, the company has already signed multiple contracts for the development of aircraft with big name manufacturers like Bell Helicopters, as well as deals for construction of charging stations and takeoff and landing pads (which it has named “vertiports”).

Uber claims that its “real” flying cars will be ready for public unveiling sometime around 2020. Given their success in revolutionizing ground travel (and despite huge financial losses and lawsuits currently facing the company), it would be difficult to bet against them.
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