How Soon Will We Have Hovercrafts?

Jessica Schmerler | jessica.schmerler@yale.edu March 14, 2012

The sky is no longer the limit for the Moller Skycar. Photo courtesy of Moller International.

Flying cars and hovercrafts have played their fair share of roles in popular culture over the past century, gracing the big screen in such films as 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 1989’s Back to the Future Part II. And, of course, who could forget the inspiring futuristic world presented in the childhood television series, The Jetsons. However, as the years pass by, one begins to wonder if these childhood fantasies will ever become reality.

Currently, technologies that can technically be classified as “flying cars” do, in fact, exist. Essentially, these cars operate with similar mechanisms to those of small airplanes, while boasting alterations such as the incorporation of stronger tires and windshields, the use of synthetic vision systems, and the capacity for far higher fuel efficiency. However, the implementation of these technologies as commercial hovercrafts is currently impractical due to several obstacles.

Chief among these reasons is that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cannot handle the increased air traffic that would accompany the release of flying cars. In March 2011, the FAA presented a timeline targeted for 2017 for its program “NextGen,” which provides the framework for a system to make air travel “more convenient and dependable.” Another major hurdle in the production of commercial hovercrafts is the cost. One of today’s most advanced and practical flying cars is the Terrafugia Transition, a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) with the ability to fold its wings, drive casually as an automobile along ordinary roads, and even fit in a garage. Of course, this perceived practicality extends only so far, as the Transition and other similar hovercraft models carry a hefty base price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Despite these barriers, the combination of the implementation of NextGen and the advances in technology may be bringing us to the dawn of the era of commercial hovercrafts within the next decade.