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The incredible flying cars from Bratislava

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The flying car has long captured the imagination of the futurist. For Stefan Klein it was his life's passion. When he retired from designing cars, the inventor set his mind to adding wings.

IMG_7682In 1940 Henry Ford predicted that one day somebody would combine the car and aeroplane to create a flying car. In 1982, Hollywood captured that vision in Bladerunner. Now in the Slovakia, cars really can fly.

Stefan Klein is a quiet unassuming guy, with degrees in both mechanical engineering and fine arts. He wanted to be a sculptor but studied design, going on to work for Audi, BMW and Volkswagen. But flying has always been in his family … “My father and grandfather were both pilots, and soon I learnt to fly too. This has always been my passion”. Since 1990 he has pursued his dream of building a flying car, “To me it is something at the intersection of technology and art” he said.

“Aeromobil” is a car and a plane … the wings fold straight back along the fuselage and the engine drives the front wheels. “There is room for two people” he told me. Small enough to fit in the urban parking space, when Klein hits the road, it is more sci-fi. Then as he drives onto the airport runway, it’s all James Bond … a propeller emerges at the back, and the 8.2m wings spread out to the sides. Down the runway he accelerates and into the air. Yes really.

“Whilst I have various prototypes being tested, the plan is to have a plane that can fly 700km at 200kph. We have just returned from North America where we are exploring potential agreements with NASA and Boeing to become our partners in making Aeromobil happen full scale”.  His co-founder Juray Vaculik, an ad agency man by background, says “When we look for investment, it’s about finding the right partners to make our vision happen commercially”. He imagines an initial selling price of around several hundreds of thousands of Euro, similar to supercars and small aircraft.

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Aeromobil win the 2015 Gamechangers Awards.

When Stefan Klein heard that Aeromobil had been voted winners of the Gamechangers Awards – firstly for Central and Eastern Europe, and subsequently in a global vote too, he wanted to meet. The opportunity came when I was delivering a keynote on innovation leadership at Big Ideas CEE in Bratislava. On hearing that I was nearby, he and Juray jumped into their car (yes the flying car!) and were soon arriving at my hotel. They walked on stage to great local acclaim and were eager to tell their story.

aeromobil stefan klein meeting

Over the last couple of years we have become good friends, doing events together across the world. At one recent in Istanbul, Stefan joined me on stage to tell the story of his innovation. He wanted to showcase the car too, although it had been held up at customs. Two wonderful guys, who have a great passion for their own project, but also helping to inspire and support other entrepreneurs too.

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Update June 2015: Yahoo News report following crash of Aeromobil flying car whilst testing

Slovak tech firm AeroMobil is working on a new prototype of its flying car, weeks after the vehicle of the future spread its wings and crashed during a test flight. “Sometimes you have to push the vehicle to the limit, to see how it behaves,” AeroMobil chief strategy officer Martin Bruncko told AFP about the May 8 incident.

Inventor Stefan Klein was flying the blue-and-white airborne automobile 900 feet (270 metres) off the ground when he was forced to deploy a parachute to slow its descent. Klein escaped unharmed but the flying car was damaged in what the company called an “emergency landing”. AeroMobil would not say what prompted the crash.

The company is now back at the drawing board and hopes to see pre-orders in 2017 before delivering its first flying cars to clients in 2018. It still needs to obtain a green-light from the European Aviation Safety Agency for commercial flying.

Update August 2016: Motorsport tech company Prodrive invests in Aeromobil

UK-based motorsport tech company Prodrive, founded by David Richards, has agreed to invest in Aeromobil, and join its board of directors. The current roster of AeroMobil’s board of advisors includes Anthony Sheriff, former MD of McLaren Automotive, Glenn Mercer who spent two decades at the McKinsey as an automotive specialist partner, and world-class inventor and advocate for new technology, Dean Kamen. Together they create a collective force of industry leaders with great knowledge in the areas of research, product development, regulatory affairs, and product positioning.

David Richards, previously chairman of Aston Martin, founded Prodrive in 1984. He is one of the most respected figures in world motorsport. Mr. Richards has been instrumental in establishing Prodrive as a world-leading motorsport and technology business. He has also led two F1 teams – Benetton and BAR – as team principal and in the latter led the team to second place in the F1 Constructors’ World Championship in 2004. Today, he is actively involved in all aspects of the Prodrive group and works closely with the board to develop the business strategy, supporting the executive team in its new business activity.

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Update 1 January 2017: Aeromobil gets ready to launch, final certification, and taking orders. 

The company foresees three main uses for its vehicle. First, for short and middle distance travel from 50 to 600 kilometers.

Second, for travel to areas with limited infrastructure. “With AeroMobil, you can remove a variety of obstacles,” Ladislav Batik, COO explains, noting that behind the wheel of an AeroMobil, it would no longer be necessary to drive around a Norwegian fjord or the St. Francisco Bay area; one could fly directly over it. He also foresees uses in remote areas with no or limited road infrastructure, such as in Africa, Australia and some parts of the USA, where the vehicle flies over vast expanses but does the last mile as a car.

The third main use would be for commuters who spend up to two-and-a-half hours traveling intercity due to heavy congestion. “Of course the last mile you probably need to do as a car, but in between those cities, you can fly and significantly shorten your travel time,” Mr. Batik explains.

“What is really good about our vehicle is its versatility. You can land when the weather is no longer suitable for flight, transfer to car mode and continue by road, whereas with a small aircraft you need to land and wait until the weather clears before you can carry on.”

Compliance with current automobile and aerospace legislation is a priority for AeroMobil as this will speed up the time it takes to get the product to market. “We have decided that the first vehicle we put on the market will fulfill existing regulations. Waiting for new legislation would take years.”

The company plans to begin taking orders in 2017 with delivery of the first vehicles a year later. It is targeting collectors of small airplanes, sports cars and yachts. “We are creating a new industry, a new environment, so at first we will only produce a limited number of vehicles. Our first goal is to get the vehicle onto the market, create ambassadors for the product and demonstrate that it can coexist with the current means of transport and is a viable personal transport option. Once it has been introduced to the general public and demand increases, then we can think about large-scale production and offer it as a mobility-as-a-service solution.”

So the next time you are caught in a traffic jam, take heart, because new personal transport options like AeroMobil promise to soon make congestion a thing of the past.

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