Klein Vision celebrates maiden flight of its transforming AirCar
Remember the Aeromobil flying car that hit Top Marques Monaco back in 2017? The Aeromobil's original inventor and designer Stefan Klein left that company in 2016, and has been working on another design with a new company called Klein Vision, also based in Slovakia.
Now, Klein Vision has released video footage of its prototype roadable aircraft's maiden flight. Like the Aeromobil, it's a full four-wheeled car design with two seats and it flies on wide wings using a pusher prop. This time, the wings fold in and out with an up-and-over motion, and while it's hard to think exactly why that'd be better than the Aeromobil's scissor-out wings, the process is still fully push-button automatic – so you won't have to jump out and do any manual fiddling about like you would with a Pal-V.
The new AirCar's tail extends a couple of feet in flight mode to make room for the wings and pulls back in on the ground to make it slightly less unwieldy on the road. It'll still be an odd duck on the highway, though, and parking the thing will certainly be entertaining.
There's little further information available at this stage, in terms of engine types, drive systems, top speeds or range figures on the ground or in flight, but Klein Vision says this lightweight composite body layout will support three- and four-seat versions, a twin-prop version and even an amphibious version in case you need to fly, drive AND float. What, no skis? Lazy. Just lazy.
It's certainly cool to watch this thing transform, and to see this weird-looking car take to the air. But as Pal-V is now very aware, in a commercial sense engineering and even building a prototype device that flies, transforms and drives can actually be the easy bit. The hard part starts when you try to get it certified, first as a car and then as an airplane, so you can sell it and people can actually use it. This is a long, arduous and cripplingly expensive process, and much worse for four-wheelers like the AirCar than for three-wheelers like the Pal-V. And it's hard to see how any company will achieve the kind of sales volumes you'd need to justify the expense.
What's more, most airplanes aren't subjected to the rigors of road use; something as simple as an accidental bump in a car park might just leave an annoying dent in a regular car, but could have fatal consequences if it's expected to function as an aircraft as well. Pre-flight checks on these things will need to be thorough.
Still, this takes nothing away from Stefan Klein's achievement to this point. The man has built quite a few more flying cars than you or I have, and whatever challenges may lie ahead, they do appear to work, even if they do look a tad front-heavy on takeoff to this untrained eye. He's been at this caper for about 20 years now, so he has to rank among the world's foremost experts on this kind of technology, and we can only hope he persists to the point where he can get one of these things onto the market.
Enjoy the AirCar's maiden flight video below.
Source: Klein Vision
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Or rather... when analysing the takeoff, I see what is happening... and what made you think so...
There are 2 categories of normal planes: taildraggers (2 main wheels on the front of the center of gravity and a small wheel or skid on the back, look for the photo of a DC-3 or a Pitts) and planes with a tricycle landing gear (one small front wheel in front of the center of gravity and 2 main wheels behind the COG, look for a Cessna 152 or any recent Boeing / Airbus).
This car is certainly not in the taildragger category, but nor in the tricycle category, because it has 4 wheels... and there lies the difference... on a tricycle plane, the rear wheels are very close to the COG, meaning that you can easily lift the nose of the plane by moderately pressing on the tail of the plane (this is what occurs at rotation when the pilot pulls on the yoke: the elevator points down and pushes on the tail so that the nose lifts off). Because the main landing gear is so close of the COG, when you take off, rotation only needs a small pull on the yoke (the plane has a natural tendency to fly when above stall speed), so virtually no effort is needed on the yoke to for a standard tricycle gear plane to take off at (or beyond) rotation speed.
Here, when you look at the video, you see that the pilot is pulling briskly on the yoke, then pushing back briskly again, probably to avoid a stall and to reach safe climbing speed while staying in ground effect...
I think this is necessary because the back wheels are really aft, a lot behind the COG of the plane, so they prevent it from rotating naturally even when rotation speed is reached. This is why the tail extends so far on the back of the car, so that the elevator has enough down power to lift the nose of the car in spite of the very aft position of the rear wheels wrt the COG.
Then, when you managed to lift of the nose of the car thanks to this ample yoke movement, you risk having the nose of the car point really up and get the car to stall at such a low speed due to a too weak engine power, so once it is off the ground, you need to briskly push back on the yoke (but not too much because you don't want to hit the runway nose down) in order to get back to a horizontal flight and accelerate in ground effect thanks to the realtively low position of the wings until you reach proper climb speed...
So I believe that this "heavy front" sensation you had comes from the fact that for the car to drive safely without getting its nose up in the air if you drive over a bump on the road (this would happen if the rear wheels were as near from the COG as they are on a tricycle gear plane), the COG needs to be well in between the front and rear wheels, and even extending the tail cannot pull back the COG near enough the "main" rear gear so as to guarantee a smooth takeoff as in standard tricycle gear aircraft.
Non-pilots may now ask how taildragger aircrafts proceed for taking off knowing that when they are still, their rear wheel is on the ground (meaning that you cannot push down lower than the ground for rotation)... Well, if you observe an old DC-3 taking off (or any taildragger taking off), you will see that before rotation, upon acceleration, the pilot starts by raising the tail so that the aircraft takes on a flying attitude with a horizontal tail... (the COG is quite on the front of the plane due to the weight of the engine, so it does not take much speed to raise the tail) so the tail wheel is up in the air well before rotation, (and the pilot "drives" the plane with the rudder and possibly ailerons to counter possible side wind), and when rotation speed is achieved, a very light pull on the yoke will get you naturally up in the air...
Hope this helped (and hope I'm not too off the real explanation of why this (shockingly for a pilot) brisk and ample pull on the yoke for takeoff).