We’ve been teased by the promise of a flying car for more than a century, but despite numerous attempts from companies big and small, no one has delivered us George Jetson’s commuter. We’re a long way from his bubble canopy spaceship-looking thing, but Slovakia-based AeroMobil looks to be the first to actually put the same vehicle both on the road and in the air with the AM 4.0. Yes, that’s right. The AeroMobil AM 4.0 drives down the road like a car then spreads its wings and takes flight when you reach the airport.
With a history stretching back to 1990, AeroMobil has been working on a flying car for decades, and if all goes to plan, the production AM 4.0 will finally begin assembly later this year for delivery in 2023, two years late thanks in part to the pandemic. Better late than never, AeroMobil is poised to be the first to actually sell a flying car with key competitor Terrafugia suddenly shutting down and relocating from the U.S. to China last year.
What Is It?
The AM 4.0 flying car, or more properly a roadable aircraft, is more of a plane that can drive on the road than a car that flies. With only two seats and enough luggage space for a backpack and a laptop bag, it won’t replace your SUV. AeroMobil officials describe it as a proof-of-concept rich person’s toy, with the next model, the four-seat AM Next, intended for commercial operations.
How Does It Work?
Everything needed to convert the AM 4.0 from car to plane happens in three minutes with the flip of a switch. The wings swing forward, the rear bumper swings down to become part of the lifting surface, and the blades of the propeller tilt upright. Graphics on the digital instrument panel switch from car to aviation readouts while controls change from car to airplane (engaging the propeller, flaps, ailerons, and rudder instead of the wheels). After takeoff, the wheels (now landing gear) are raised up into the fuselage as much as possible to reduce drag.
Where Does the Power Come From?
A hybrid plane car requires a hybrid powertrain. A mid-mounted, turbocharged, H-4 engine drives the propeller directly through an unspecified transmission. A clutch disengages the propeller in car mode and a hybrid system takes over, powering an electric motor between the front wheels.
AeroMobil won’t say where it got the motor, but the earlier AM 3.0 prototype used a Subaru motor and cutaway diagrams in the AM 4.0 brochure show an engine that looks exactly like a Subaru FA motor. However, AeroMobil representatives tell us the company is in talks with “a major European automaker,” which means Porsche. Regardless, a car engine is used because an aircraft engine would never pass emissions testing on the road.
How Fast Is It?
AeroMobil claims a total output of about 300 hp, which is good for an estimated 0-60 mph time of 10 seconds on the ground. Top speed on land is just shy of 100 mph and it cruises at 160 mph in the air. The company claims a climb rate of 1,200 feet per minute and STOL (short takeoff and landing) capability, needing just 1,300 feet to get off the ground and 980 feet to land.
What’s the Range?
Driven as a car, the AM 4.0 can travel between 320 and 600 miles on a tank (depending on which part of AeroMobil’s website you’re reading). Range is estimated on the more lenient WLTP test cycle, so expect it to come up a bit shorter either way in real world driving.
In the air, the AM 4.0 will go an estimated 460 miles with a single occupant and 320 miles with two people aboard.
Regardless, make sure you fill it with automotive grade gas, not 100LL leaded aviation fuel. This could be inconvenient on cross-country flights where you’re planning to stop for fuel along the way, as you’ll be required to leave the airport to refuel.
How Does the Suspension Work?
Pulling double duty as a car suspension and landing gear requires an unusual suspension design. The AM 4.0 uses a multi-link suspension in front similar in layout to a MacPherson strut. The springs and shock absorbers are mounted inboard in the top of the nose and actuated by pushrods. The wheels are raised up into the wheel wells electrically when in flight. The rear suspension uses a compact trailing arm design which also pulls the wheels up into the vertical stabilizers during flight.
Is It Safe?
The AM 4.0 is designed to pass all the same crash tests as a car, though AeroMobil only lists three-point seatbelts, crumple zones, and a carbon-fiber monocoque safety cell under road safety. Presumably, the vehicle has at least front airbags as well (the steering yoke appears to have one).
In the air, the AM 4.0 comes
standard with a ballistic parachute that the driver/pilot can deploy in an emergency to bring the entire craft to the ground reasonably safely. Indeed, during a prototype flight test in 2015 the test pilot used the parachute successfully and walked away from the crash with minor injuries. An autopilot system is also optional.
Is It Comfortable?
Not really. The cockpit/passenger compartment is extremely cramped, just large enough for adults. The seats are fixed in place and the pedal box moves to adjust to your height. Getting in and out is an acrobatic act requiring you to grab a handle molded into the inside of the A-pillar and lower yourself down while you wiggle your legs under the steering yoke. Once in, you need to lift your butt and slide the thigh cushion into a comfortable position. Getting out is the reverse. With the door closed, you have very little head, elbow, and shoulder room, so the claustrophobic need not apply.
How Does It Drive?
AeroMobil isn’t letting anyone drive the AM 4.0 yet, but the company claims it has “safe and responsive handling.” It should be very stable on the road thanks to the extremely long wheelbase (not specified, but the overall vehicle is as long as an F-150 but with a longer wheelbase). With a reported empty weight of 2,100 pounds, it should be nimble even if it needs to make wider turns. Needing 10 seconds to get up to 60 mph makes it slower than a Prius, but the power delivery from the electric drive motor should be linear and responsive. Company representatives say the ride quality is good.
Will I Need a Pilot’s License?
Yes. AeroMobil says it’s very close to getting EASA CS 23 type certification in the European Union and expects to get US FAA Part 23 certification shortly thereafter. Company representatives say they the vehicle will require a private pilot license, not a sport or recreational pilot license.
Will I Still Need to Do a Preflight Inspection?
Yes, it’s still a plane and you will need to get out and run through the usual preflight check after you arrive at the airport before you takeoff.
What Happens if It Gets in a Crash?
For minor damage to the mostly carbon-fiber construction, a patch can be applied onsite. For more serious damage, the vehicle will have to be taken to a certified repair facility. Extensive damage will likely render the vehicle unroadworthy and unairworthy.
How Much Is It?
AeroMobil isn’t saying exactly, but the estimated price will range between $1.3 million and $1.6 million according to various reports. The company has been taking reservations since 2017 and hasn’t disclosed the number of orders it has on the books, so it will likely be a while before you get yours if you haven’t reserved already.
Why Shouldn’t I Just Get a Nice Cessna 152 Instead?
Because you want to be able to tell your friends you own a flying car. Yes, 152s are going for $100,000 on the high end and $25,000 on the low end and their performance specs aren’t as good (123 mph cruising speed, 715 feet per minute climb rate) and yes you can buy four-seat aircraft with better performance for well under $1 million. But you can’t drive any of them off the airport all the way to your house, office, or hotel.
Why Shouldn’t I Wait for the Four-Seat AM Next?
Because it won’t be here until 2027 at the earliest, or because you’re a fleet operator looking to run a commercial business. AeroMobil is reaching out to such companies looking to partner up for a door-to-door commercial flight business that has a licensed commercial pilot and chauffeur pick you up, drive you to the airport, take care of all the preflight, fly you to your destination city, and drive you to your destination.
The AM Next is designed with more passenger comfort in mind and will offer more passenger space and more luggage space. AeroMobil estimates an operator could be profitable selling the three passenger seats for a total of $1,200 per flight. Get two of your friends to come with you and that’s $400 each, which is comparable with both commercial and chartered airfare and gets you door-to-door.