Over 15 companies are actively developing realistic flying car prototypes, and Bell, the aviation company which saw its aircraft break the sound barrier way back in 1947, is not about to be left behind. Last year they showed a prototype of the cabin which, while interesting, was bit underwhelming without rotors or wings.
Bell must have got the message because they showed up with a more developed prototype with six rotating turbofans. The current Bell Nexus prototype is a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) craft much like the V-22 Osprey or the forthcoming V-280 Valor. It made for an impressive presence on the stand, to say the least.
Although the blades in Nexus’ turbofans turned gently, it was just for display. This is not a working prototype. Actual flying test mules are a couple of years away. The earliest date for possible flight implementation is 2023, and that is assuming that the FAA and other regulatory agencies approve the air taxi service model of Uber, one of Bell’s many partners in this venture.
The prototype Nexus cabin seats four persons and a pilot. Autonomy, for the moment, is not in the plan, although Uber certainly wants to see that develop in the future. At four passengers, this will be a premium service, not something the average family will use to jet away to dinner on a whim.
Without a doubt the Nexus will use existing helipads (it fits within the standard 40 foot square of traditional helipads), although new ones will also be developed in coming years. The idea of a flying car zooming down to pick you up for that business meeting or trip to the airport still seems at least a decade or more away, and that assumes a streamlined regulatory process.
Of course, air taxi services already exist in major cities, particularly where traffic is impossible and the existing helipad network is relatively extensive. New York City and Sao Paolo, Brazil, which has the highest number of helicopters in the world, come to mind.
Indeed VOOM, a Uber-like helicopter service in Sao Paolo and Mexico city is thriving and planning, with partners such as Airbus and Audi, to provide a point-to-point air/road taxi service that promises concierge-level service. Airbus itself has an extensive plan for dominating the skies in certain local markets, so Bell and its partners will have their work cut out for them.
For the moment, it was good to see the Nexus at CES, The prototype brings some realism to the talk of flying cars, and is exciting and futuristic on the stand. What is not exciting and futuristic is the overcrowded airspace in places like London and Los Angeles. How these planned services will deal with grabbing airspace in those markets is perhaps the most daunting challenge of all, vastly overshadowing any technical obstacles.
And here’s a quick screengrab from their show video, to give you an idea of what it should (may) look like in flight...