RAAMSDONKSVEER (Netherlands) • From The Jetsons to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, flying cars have long captured the imagination.
While several futuristic projects are under way in different countries, a Dutch design may be the first one sold and soaring into the skies.
After years of testing, the PAL-V company aims to pip its competitors to the post. It is poised to start production on what it bills as a world first: a three-wheeled gyrocopter-type vehicle which can carry two people and will be certified for use on the roads and in the skies.
"This kind of dream has been around for 100 years now. When the first airplane was invented people already thought, 'How can I make that driveable on the road?'" chief marketing officer Markus Hess told Agence France-Presse.
The PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) firm, based in Raamsdonksveer in the Netherlands, is aiming to deliver its first flying car by the end of next year.
The lucky owner will need both a driving licence and a pilot's licence. But, with the keys in hand, the owner will be able to drive to an airfield for the short take-off and, after landing elsewhere, drive to the destination in a "door-to- door" experience.
Different versions of a flying car are being developed in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Japan, China and the United States.
But final assembly on the PAL-V will start in October, with the company seeking to be the first to go into commercial production.
The PAL-V uses normal unleaded petrol for its two 100 horsepower engines, and can fly 400km to 500km at an altitude of up to 3,500m.
On the road, it has a top speed of around 170kmh.
In 2019, the company expects to produce between 50 and 100 vehicles, before ramping up to "quite a few hundred" in 2020.
It will not be cheap. The first edition, the PAL-V Liberty, costs €499,000 (S$773,000), while the slightly cheaper PAL-V Liberty Sport, to be made next, has a price tag of €299,000.
PAL-V was founded in 2007 by Mr Robert Dingemanse and pilot John Bakker.
"In the beginning it was, let's make a gyrocopter driveable," said Mr Hess.
But the company, which has about 50 employees, realised the weight and length of a gyrocopter's blades gave the vehicle a high centre of gravity when driving, especially taking corners.
It has designed the car so that at the flick of a button, the blades fold down and gather like a bat's wings on the top.
And it has incorporated into the car a 2005 breakthrough - when the Dutch company Carver invented a tilting system for three-wheelers - to counter the high centre of gravity and make it roadworthy.
The company insists that the PAL-V is not a helicopter, in which the blades are powered by an engine. It is a gyroplane, in which the blades rotate thanks to airflow.
Even if both engines cut out, the blades will still turn, so "even if you go at zero speed, it still keeps rotating and you are not going to drop out of the sky," said Mr Hess.
Once built, the vehicle will have to complete at least 150 flying hours, and undergo extensive tests to receive its certification from the Cologne-based European Aviation Safety Agency.