back to article US Air Force shows off latest all-electric flying car, says it 'might seem straight out of a Hollywood movie'

The US Air Force has revealed a prototype of a flying car, something the American military has desired for at least a decade. The latest build is single-person aircraft – specifically, a version of the Lift Hexa copter, which uses 18 electric motors that allow it to take off and land vertically. The vehicle was put through its …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Not quite finished yet

    "This flight today marks the first of many demonstrations and near term flight tests designed to reduce the technical risk and prepare for Agility Prime fielding in 2023.”

    The quote from the article makes it clear these are not intended to be usable in theatre any time soon, merely as a platform from which to develop the concept if at all possible.

    It is actually a case of the military putting some money where their mouth is, with multiple prototypes providing input, it broadens the approach and enables a range of ideas to be ticked off the list or approved for further development in parallel so reducing the time to achieve a functional result ( with luck).

    1. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Not quite finished yet

      The flying car concept is stupid. Four man light aircraft exist at reasonable prices that require short, grass runways. VTOL does not mean you don't need a trained pilot or air traffic control. A pilots license costs 40 hours flight time and a few grand, comparable to a lorry license. planes are cheap.

      VTOL is pointless for most travel, just like cars require roads and traffic lights, air travel requires runways and flight paths. I don't think that will ever change. The more people have these things the more control we will need to prevent accidents. No matter how you take off the a journey will be on controlled flight paths as soon as more than one neighbour has one. you'll be better off on the road where at least you can stop for a pee if you want to.

      1. Qumefox

        Re: Not quite finished yet

        Where the heck do you live that getting your pilot's license is "only a few grand" Here in the US. When all is said and done, if you want to carry passengers in a single engine light aircraft, you're looking at around $15k after instruction, aircraft rental, fuel costs, etc. And want to fly twin engine? Have to get type rated for that as well, which is more instruction, more aircraft rental (at a much higher rate since it's a larger plane) more fuel costs, etc.

        If getting your pilot's license was easy and cheap, everyone would do it. While I personally don't think it's that hard, it's just learning things. It however is far from cheap unless you happen to have a six figure income.

  2. Imhotep Silver badge

    It slices, it dices

    The optional clear bowl makes short work of food prep.

  3. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    There's no helicopter-like "collective pitch lever" to enable safe landing in the event of all batteries crapping out & no apparent way to attach a parachute... this takes "Range Anxiety" to a whole other level

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Considering the level of battery and motor technology, I think range anxiety is something you'll get even stepping into a fully charged unit.

    2. cortland

      Imagine...

      "Hey!" what's wrong with the prop...............AAAAH!

  4. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Paint it orange and yellow . . .

    . . . then it will look like one of those plastic toddlers' toy cars with a bunch of drones strapped to the top. The only conceivable use of such a thing is to convey Chair Force brass around a military base in, um, style, we'll go with style.

    I can totally see Bond in one of these, however, tootling away from the exploding volcano lair in the nick of time, Denise Crosby perched on his lap.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

      Definitely could be a Bond vehicle, it reminds me of Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice.

    2. Tim_the_Unenchanter

      Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

      Actually there are a number of uses:

      including inspecting fence lines, runways, towers, tank farms (the kind that hold fluids, not the kind that run around on tracks), security - one or two soldiers could patrol a larger area than on foot, and probably quieter than in a Humvee. From an elevated position, you can see a far greater area.

      There are locations with antennas on mountain tops - quick and cheaper way to get to them in a timely fashion. I can see the operating cost per hour being a lot cheaper than using a helicopter.

      and that's just off the top of my head, limited in capacity though it may be.

      1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
        Coat

        Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

        Here in my part of Outback® Oz local farmers already inspect fence lines, towers etc etc using drones to replace their older gyrocopters.

        I might be missing something but I can't think of a tactical situation where, if a chopper can't go in then a quieter, smaller but still lethal drone can't be used.

        Instruction book's in my pocket.

    3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

      TM, you imbecilic fuckwit, you meant Denise Richards not Denise Crosby. What the fucking fuck is your fucking problem?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

        Well I think a James Bond/ Next Generation crossover is a thing I never knew I needed 'til now.

        Bet you Bond has a will they-won't they thing with Ryker.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Paint it orange and yellow . . .

      ". . . then it will look like one of those plastic toddlers' toy cars with a bunch of drones strapped to the top. The only conceivable use of such a thing is to convey Chair Force brass around a military base in, um, style, we'll go with style."

      The Segway of the skies!!!! Sounds like a cool idea but anyone using one ends up looking like a dick.

  5. Technically Still Alive

    Oddly Enough...

    I sort of get the point of these vehicles for short low level stealth trips across a border, achieving a difficult location or a quick aerial reconnoitre during a mission. The 18 rotors are likely to have some degree of redundancy too. They are also likely to be cheap in military terms. I can definitely see the police wanting these as part of close surveillance or crowd control. So will they be in the shops for Christmas?

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Oddly Enough...

      short low level stealth trips across a border,

      You must have heard how noisy a normal quadcopter drone is, so how loud do you think 18 rotors are going to be?

      Stealth is not an option.

      1. Kane Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Oddly Enough...

        "Stealth is not an option."

        *HONK*

      2. Qumefox

        Re: Oddly Enough...

        It could be an option. There are propeller designs that are pretty damn quiet. They just also sacrifice a good bit of efficiency as well. Which, on your average quadcopter, or even a Cessna, isn't worth it since being quiet isn't really a huge consideration hence you never see them used. For a military application, their use becomes more worth the drawbacks.

  6. HildyJ Silver badge
    FAIL

    Prediction

    The military will put this into production in appropriate Appropriation Committee members' districts; it will never see active combat; and it will end up in the boneyard of forgotten toys.

  7. JDPower

    This flying car seems to be distinctly lacking in the "car" department.

    1. BrownishMonstr Bronze badge

      Depends, doesn't car mean "carriage"?

  8. Sampler

    "let alone a plan for how they would be safely operated in large numbers"

    I think for that you're going to have to give up autonomy, for flying cars to be viable you can't trust people to pilot them, they will have to be machine controlled with a mixture of onboard (incase of network drop out) and centralised co-ordination to ensure flightpaths of vehicles stay clear of each other over the course of the trip.

    So, we're going to be a bit away from that, plenty of time to actually figure out the flying vehicle bit....

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "let alone a plan for how they would be safely operated in large numbers"

      Swarms of drones on ad hoc mesh networks coordinating their own 'air traffic control' autonomously has been shown successfully in principal some years ago.

  9. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Happy

    Everything old is new again!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9Yww9LG3gw

    :)

    1. Hairy Scary

      Re: Everything old is new again!!

      Here's the home made version :-)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5JgnMJzCtQ&feature=youtu.be

      1. Alumoi

        Re: Everything old is new again!!

        Best leaf blower I've ever seen!

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Mushroom

    The FAA might have some feedback

    Are those bunches of naked LiPo pouch cells taped together under the motors?

    1. Troy Tempest

      Re: The FAA might have some feedback

      To me they look like spice jars ....

  11. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

    ... I really dont see any use case for a reasonably likely flying car to the military.

    If what you want is a car for use in theatre that can maybe fly to get over dodgy terrain, cross rivers, etc. then it still needs to be built like a Hummer, so heavy as anything, and you need to protect the rotors because thats exactly what the enemy will shoot first. Making it highly nonviable.

    If you want a flying thing for stealthy monitoring, then anything with rotors is out straight away and you already have high altitude drones for that.

    If you want something that can fly, hover, move around a bit on the ground, well you already have helicopters. Stick some wheels on one and you have that moving around capability if you desire, but well anything with rotors shouldnt be on the ground for any length of time in a dangerous zone, so again not fixing your problem.

    Need to move heavy loads around safe areas but without roads, again this isnt the solution (thats what all those airship prototypes are looking at, but the use case is so minimal, I dont see them going anywhere either).

    So when exactly is a flying car going to outperform a Hummer, a Drone or a Helicopter in any situation? I'd love to know the answer to that one, because I'm stumped...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

      "So when exactly is a flying car going to outperform a Hummer, a Drone or a Helicopter in any situation?"

      When? As soon as it starts putting money in the appropriate contractor's pocket would be my guess.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

      A large part of military operations isn't combat, but logistics. The shipping pallet was originally US 'military tech' (WW2, Pacific Theatre), the shipping container was civilian invention but popularised by the US military (Vietnam War).

      I haven't got an answer for your question, but such an answer might be found in the area of getting a few key personnel from a main base to a forward operating base, perhaps. The military is sure to have a use for moving a few people around quickly and cheaply over rough (but non combat) terrain.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

        I'd still argue that a helicopter will do that job quicker, cheaper and easier then a flying car.

        Any flying car is going to be very heavy and expensive because it either requires two separate engine systems, or an extremely complex transmission to switch between road and flying modes. The Osprey is a prime example of this, a tilt rotor aircraft that can hover and VTOL. But the complexity involved in those tilt rotors makes them super expensive to maintain, relatively unreliable and prone to unfortunate accidents.

        If you need to move people between bases, you'd go in order of the expected danger (and/or cost) - car, convoy, APC, Helicopter. I dont see a spot in that list for a flying car...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

          "I'd still argue that a helicopter will do that job quicker, cheaper and easier then a flying car."

          Yep. If it needs to be small and cheap, what about those helicopters used for herding cattle in Australia? Tiny, cheap, agile and you can get two in it.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

          Helicopter = big thing requiring trained pilot (in addition to the actual single human payload) and routine servicing for single point of failure mechachinal parts

          Flying Car as illustrated = smaller thing that can transport a single untrained passenger. System is tolerant of failure of any one of the mechanical modules, modules which can be easily swapped out.

          If there is some reason that the helicopter will always be cheaper, I'm not seeing it.

    3. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

      For taking out airborne entities such as this, FOD is your friend. You don't specifically target any particular part of the vehicle, you just put large quantites of 'bits' in a dense cloud right in the flightpath and

      let the speed of the vehicle/rotors do the rest.

    4. macjules Silver badge

      Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

      ... I really dont see any use case for a reasonably likely flying car to the military.

      Precisely. But there might well be a need for funding something that they would much rather was not known about. So money can be approved for this and spent elsewhere.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I really dont see any use case for a reasonably likely flying car to the military.

      well, it should lift a soldier over a large fence Or a wall... Or two walls, there and back!

    6. EvilDrSmith Bronze badge

      Re: OK i get it, its a demonstrator but...

      Well, the photo looks more like a small one-man helicopter.

      So your engineers pull up next to the river, haul this thing out the back of the 5 tonne truck, and it pops over the river trailing a rope / the safety line, before you need to put any boats in the water.

      Or similarly, it takes a rope to the top of the cliff, before any of the platoon have to start climbing.

      With a bit more load capacity, maybe casualty evacuation from difficult locations (a gully, a minefield) back to the unit's road transport.

      It's not as good as a proper helicopter, but every unit has their own, so has the capability immediately on hand (for when they call for helicopter support and are told there is none available).

      Maybe.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I person miltary helicopter you say?

    Like this or this ?

    Novelty.

    It's difficult to replicate.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge

      Re: I person miltary helicopter you say?

      Also this, but less "helicopter" and more jet engine: the "Flying Pulpit" (Williams X-Jet).

      (No wheels, though, so nothing "car" about it.)

    2. Giles C Bronze badge

      Re: I person miltary helicopter you say?

      Dh5 flying school, if at first you don’t succeed you will be minced!

    3. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: I person miltary helicopter you say?

      Perhaps more prosaic:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAANHP6R0IE

      (Hiller XROE Rotorcycle)

    4. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: I person miltary helicopter you say?

      Or, if you relax the "must have spinning blades" part, the Magnetic Air Car from 1966

      https://www.dicktracymuseum.com/new-page

      (You will need to scroll down)

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I person miltary helicopter you say?

      Yeah but those other things weren't *battery powered*

      Obviously anything electric has to be better.

  13. DrBobK
    Paris Hilton

    Skateboarders

    Barrett said back when the project was launched, "but by partnering today with stakeholders across industries and agencies, we can set up the United States for this aerospace phenomenon."

    I read this as "but by partnering today with SKATEBOARDERS across industries and agencies..."

    I think they might have more success if they did partner with skateboarders for this one.

  14. macjules Silver badge

    Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

    Yesterday we had US Fusion reactors, today we have flying cars. They must be showing all episodes of Back to the Future in the Pentagon.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this looks SO uncool!

    where's the ionic engines with their iconic bluish exhausts?! Where's the plasma guns and what the (...) is with this yo-yo shape and shredder-chopper-micro-blades over his head? And his uniform and boots, my Lord! :((((

  16. Chris the bean counter Bronze badge

    Is there a more elegant solution than 18 propellors?

    Can you get the same lift having them in "parallel" in a tube, bit like a turboprop ?

  17. herman Silver badge

    A true braveheart.

  18. Aseries

    Call it what it is

    It is just a helicopter.

  19. martinusher Silver badge

    Flying cars are impractical.....

    ....not because you can't make a car with wings but because even if you neatly solved all the practical issues that make them a bt clumsy you'd run into something more insurmountable -- "the bureaucracy".

    Its easy enough to put wings on a car shaped object. Paint the word "EXPERIMENTAL" somewhere on the fuselage/body and you're in business. Trying to get this lot type certified so you can make a business selling them will then bankrupt you. Once you've bought one (for *how much*?) as the proud owner of this beast you'll need both regular driver's license and a pilot's certificate, the latter also needing a medical certificate which becomes 'non-trivial' as you get older. While on the ground the FAA (sorry, I am talking "American" here but the CAA probably follows similar rules and procedures) will ignore it until it lifts off, magically transmuting from a car to an aeroplane. At that point driving it becomes a whole different game -- its not the controls and stuff but all the traffic prcedures and regulations, flight plans and what-have-you. You can ignore this if the vehicle is small enough to be a 'light sport' (about the weight of an undersized 2 seater sports car) but you'll discover that your rating means you can't go anywhere or fly in anything less than perfect conditions.

    Although the FAA will regard your car as a car while its not flying maintaining it is going to be a bit more of a hassle than just taking it to the local garage. You need to document everything. (Again, 100% DiY can skip this -- at their own risk.) You'll need to get the work done by aviation certified mechanics or at least inspected and signed off by them.

    (Also, I bet you don't to a 100% predrive inspection of your car everytime you hop in it to go off to the supermarket. Obviously you can skip this step with a plane but you'd be well advised not to.)

    Honestly, its a lot easier to drive to the local airport, drag the plane out, leave the car in the hangar, fly to wherever you're going and borrow the crew car from the local FBO.

  20. steelpillow Silver badge
    Trollface

    Flying car? Flying bollocks!

    So this is street legal, right? It'll do a hundred miles at 50 mph in heavy weather and park up in a multi-storey, right?

    What's that? Speak LOUDER! Roadable aircraft you say? Err, how roadable? We-ell, maybe, we'll see.

    OK, so now, what's the MTBF of these motor drive systems? What are the chances of so many crapping out on a mission that it has to be aborted?

    may I see the FMEA?

    1. Finger trouble; "Sorry Sir, I connected them in the wrong order."

    2. Loose connections; "Yay! I make over a mile before something shook loose. Another 17 to go."

    3. Mechanical failure; "Took a bit of grunt to get it out the garage door, but we made it."

    4. Component failure; "and the MTBF of these 18 sets of bearings in a dusty valley is...?"

    5. Battery flammability resistance under gunfire?

    6. etc. etc.

  21. Panicnow

    Hydrogen Balloons

    Cost pennies, can use gas for power too, Just as appropriate as these

  22. earl grey Silver badge
    Trollface

    where's the frikkin laser?

    you know it needs one.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Park it by the solid gold toilet seats

    Man, some contractor walked away from this with stuffed pockets. Strap of bunch of electric motors on a streamlined seat, and change the topic if anyone asks about battery life.

  24. RobThBay

    Hmmm.... a one person flying thingy.... anyone remember the jet pack that Sean Connery wore in an old James Bond movie?

  25. Steve Crook

    It's carrying a man in his underwear.

    Not a squaddie with a 20kg pack and all the other stuff they have to lug around....

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