We've been teased with the prospect of a flying car for years now, with many designs, like the Terrafugia Transition, having been under development for some time but yet to arrive in garages or hangars. The Braunschweig-based company, Carplane hopes to square the circle with a twin-fuselage roadable monoplane that made its first public appearance in prototype form at the recent AERO show in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
A regular fixture on science fiction and engineering magazine covers, the flying car is more than just an escape fantasy for frustrated commuters trapped in the sixth traffic jam of the week. There's also a business case for such vehicles, which would make private plane travel more practical for greater numbers of business people.
Small planes operating from local airports can greatly speed up business travel, but it often isn't practical because of the problem of getting to and from remote airfields, which aren't noted for being booming markets for taxi services or hire car agencies. A flying car could fill this gap, but there's a catch; cars make poor aircraft, and aircraft make poor cars. This is a problem that has plagued what Carplane puts at the over 2,000 flying car projects of the past century.
Developed with money from the EU and the German state of Lower Saxony, Carplane says it is aiming to have its vehicle certified both as a light aircraft (in the very light aircraft (VLA) category) and as a passenger car, without any exemptions in either category. Its creators also claim that it will fly at least as well as a trainer plane and drives as well as a compact car.
Like a number of flying car designs, the Carplane has retractable wings and tail section. It's not even the first twin-fuselage flying car design we've seen. But where the Carplane does stand out is where is tucks its wings.
Instead of below, above, to the sides, or behind the car, the wings are stowed between the two hulls. This means they don't have to be folded or retracted, which allows them to be lighter and stronger without making the car too tall or too long. They are also protected from the wind while driving, preventing lift or slaloming without obstructing vision, as has been the case with some alternative arrangements. In the current prototype, the wings are stowed manually, but the company says it has designed a mechanism to do this automatically in production models, provided the vehicle is granted a weight exemption to accommodate the extra mechanics.
The twin-fuselage design also allows the Carplane to have four non-retractable 15-in wheels with block tires from a Smart car. These provide for a takeoff run of only 85 m (279 ft) because the wheels are under power, which means that the Carplane can operate from short grass airstrips. In addition, the hull arrangement allows the Carplane to fit in a standard garage. It's empty weight of 498 kg (1,097 lb) is about the same as a two-seat compact car.
The twin-fuselage arrangement does have an obvious downside, as it separates the driver and passenger. However, Carplane says that this isn't really a big deal, as the vehicle is aimed at the business market, where the driver and passenger are usually separated as a matter of course.
The Carplane's foldable push prop is powered by a 151 bhp PC850 engine that gives the vehicle an estimated range of 833 km (517 mi), a service ceiling of 4,570 m (15,000 ft), and a cruising speed of 200 km/h (125 mph). On the ground, it can do 176 km/h (109 mph) and is compliant with EURO-5 emission controls.
Carplane says that it hopes to have the currently unfinished prototype completed by July.