Flying cars are often used as a classic example of how mid-20th century dreams of the future never came to pass. But even if we’re not yet flying over freeways to commute to work, flying cars do exist. One example is the Maverick, a vehicle designed to travel to remote locations to provide services like humanitarian aid.
On the ground, the dune buggy-like vehicle drives like a regular car, with no training required. But once someone reaches the end of a road–for example, at the edge of a rainforest–the car can be converted into a plane in 15 or 20 minutes. A powered parachute, stowed in the back seat, is strong enough to lift everything off the ground, so the car floats along like something out of a cartoon.
“The car is developed specifically for missions and humanitarian aid,” explains Steve Buer, production manager for Indigenous Peoples’ Technology and Education Center, the nonprofit that developed the car.
“You drive where you can drive, and then fly where you need to fly into. A lot of these places in the jungle, some of them aren’t very far away from roads, so that you can drive fairly close. Or you can drive to where a bridge is out or a road is impassable, parachute up, and fly where you need to fly to go.”
In the air, the car is designed to be as simple to fly as possible–the steering wheels and foot pedals still work as usual. In the U.S., since the vehicle is considered a “powered parachute,” it only requires a sport pilot license to legally fly, a training course that takes just 25 hours. The car can fly for about three hours and cover 120 miles.
The Maverick was the brainchild of Steve Saint, who grew up the child of missionaries in Ecuador. “Having grown up in the jungle, Steve saw the need for aviation–that’s the main way to get around there,” Buer says. “He saw a need for something not as expensive, something that doesn’t require as much education and training as a regular plane, so he came up with the idea of a flying car.”
While it may be cheaper than a plane or helicopter, the car isn’t exactly cheap–at $94,000, it’s about the same price as a high-end Tesla S. Over time, the company hopes to scale up production and bring costs down.
Eventually, the designers may also be able to incorporate more environmentally friendly technology; at the moment, the flying car runs on standard gas. Electric power, the developers say, isn’t feasible to use now. “As we see it, the technology isn’t there yet,” Buer says. “It takes a lot of power to keep something heavy in the air. That’s the dilemma.”
Within a year, the company expects one of their cars to be in use in the Ecuador rainforest, and others will likely be sent to Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the U.S., the company is talking to interested customers on large ranches and in the forestry service.
A French company is making a similar flying car, which will be out in 2016. Terrafugia, another company that has been developing a flying car for the last eight years, also plans to release their first model in 2016.