Interview

Where the world of motorways and airways meet

Klein vision

By Anton Zajac, the cofounder of Klein Vision, whose prototype AirCar completed a 35-minute flight between international airports in Nitra and Bratislava, Slovakia at the end of June 2021.

How do you see AirCar transforming the future of personal air transport?

The future of transport is hidden in alternatives, and must take into account efficiency, weight reduction, ability to integrate new technologies, reduction of carbon footprint and the shift to sustainability. One of the alternatives is the flying car. Our idea lies in the transformation and use of both car and aircraft modes, the so-called dual-mode transportation vehicle. The flying car segment does not require additional costs for new infrastructure development. From a user point of view, the flying car needs to be understood in the context of technological development, which will integrate more and more into the use of airspace, increasing security through the use of autonomous systems. The past but also the future has always been connected with the feeling of freedom, which is an important element of the human psyche. Paradoxically, the cars that once brought people freedom are losing us freedom today – current trends in the automotive industry to increase engine power are restricted by existing speed limits (130 km/h limit), so the trend to increase speed appears to be illogical. On the contrary, in the aviation sector, performance can be transformed into speed with virtually no limitations. A fundamental dimension in individual transport can bring new technologies, especially in the field of integration of autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and global planning. It sounds like science-fiction but it’s coming in the near future.

What are the key programme milestones for the future – certification for commercial use and availability for purchase? When will we see the first flight of a four-seater, amphibious, twinengined version?

In terms of milestone achievements, the crucial part was to complete all experimental phases to verify the basic aerodynamic concept, flight characteristics of the specified geometry and usability as a car. For this purpose a BMW KT1600 motorcycle engine was installed onto the framework of P1, which does not represent the final power plant solution. The advantage of the BMW engine was that the gearbox allowed us to test both modes. In the AirCar P2 development, significant emphasis is being placed on the installation of the ADEPT power plant. The ADEPT engine has been designed from the beginning as an aircraft engine and has double the power of the BMW. It's a modern, six-cylinder engine with a fully digital electronic control unit; it is liquid cooled, located in the central part of the fuselage and is a feasible candidate to be certified and comply with strict automotive emission norms. Another difference between P1 and P2 is the use of a full carbon monocoque. Prototype 2 gives us the base for opening the certification processes of car and aircraft and verification of technology that allows cost-effective small series production with the reduction of overall weight compared to P1.

As far as certification and commercial use are concerned, there are two possible routes for commercialisation: one is the strategy of selling kits after finishing the development phase of P2, which is still in the experimental category. Second strategy is to proceed with a more complex certification process of the Normal category according to CS23 certification specifications. In the case of obtaining sufficient funds, we consider the second strategy to be more optimal.

Looking at modification, currently more than 100 companies deal with the research and development of the classical flying cars concept approach based on dual modes, as well as additional conceptual variations such as a virtual take-off and landing (VTOL)/drones. This environment is becoming very dynamic; PAL-V has already had the first commercial success in this market with its concept based on the gyroplane. Our main argument is based on dual mode’s functionality, where one mode represents a form that not only evokes but also fully represents parameters identical to the sports car category, and the other mode is in the form of an aircraft; here AirCar achieves flight parameters comparable to most general aviation (GA) aircraft. We think this is one of the project's biggest advantages. The AirCar concept is based on a lift body fuselage, through a unique transformation cycle, modifiable tail parts and folding wing mechanism being moved into the internal structure of the main body. This represents the basic construction framework from which additional variants will arise. AirCar spatial arrangements allowed us to develop unique patent-protected versions such as twin-engine, amphibious, three- and four- seat versions. Future versions are currently in the stage of spatial analysis. Klein Vision has decided on a two-seater version as an initial development phase, which showcases the attributes and uniqueness of a new means of transport.

How do you see the market for AirCar developing in Europe and globally?

on several factors, such as the degree of the development and character of the ground infrastructure, the size of the country and its geographical parameters, airspace organisation, aviation infrastructure levels, social and hierarchical organisation of the country and its cultural and technical maturity. From this point of view, we think that the USA and EU markets are closest to allowing the possible integration of flying cars. There might be great potential in countries such as China that are dynamic and accelerating in the GA area. The potential is hidden wherever large areas without existing or underdeveloped ground infrastructure are available: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India. Another area that could be changed is the air taxi service. This service can be transferred directly from the air to the street and can connect procedures that are common in the ground taxi service with the high-speed travel and increased comfort within a radius of up to 1000 km. This could be possible with the three- and four-seat versions, or the amphibious version in the case of island states.

What would be a typical route, flight trajectory (range, height, instrument flight rules/visual flight rules (IFR/VFR)?

In effectively managed countries, legislation and rules follow modern ideas and technologies. The flying car will follow the current situation and trends that are expected in general aviation. The boundaries between IFR and VFR flights depend mainly on the level of technology transformed into aircraft equipment in terms of construction and avionics. These boundaries are constantly evolving. Compared to the past, IFR flying is becoming more accessible to a larger group of people. AirCar belongs to the group representing incoming technologies and in this context the idea of a flying car will also develop. AirCar is based on the current level of laws and rules on flying and the technologies used. Therefore, it will carry various forms of flying as we perceive them in the context of the development of other GA aircraft.

Have you had conversations yet with airports and air traffic control (ATC) about future operations?

We have participated for many years in conferences and discussion panels which deal with the issue of new means of transport in the individual transport sector. Twenty years ago, we took part in the ICAS conference in Manchester where the organisers had a problem incorporating this issue into the structure. Today, the topic of flying cars is no longer unusual and has its audience. The idea of a flying car does not need any special rules regarding flying and moving around the airport, the only situation that needs to be addressed is exiting international airports through the corridor and connecting to the current ground infrastructure.

How is the certification process going – what has been your relationship with the CAA?

The legislative process is based upon the existing environment. The Slovak Aviation Authority was very helpful and searched for a solution together with us. P1 was implemented according to national rules in the experimental category under the Slovak Aviation Authority. For Prototype 1 construction took place under the supervision of the CAA and the methodology of flight tests was determined and a special certificate of airworthiness was issued. These procedures will also be applied when building the P2. After those stages, we should have sufficient knowledge to open certification processes with the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). An ideal situation could be the establishment of a flying car legislative framework. This would also be the most natural, as it represents a very new and specific segment, which has its own peculiarities.

What kind of avionics are on board – a standard general aviation fitment?

In P2, the installation of Garmin G3X avionics is planned. Currently, the experimental P1 is equipped with standard analogue instruments, aerometric probes, flight recorders and a variety of digital devices used to evaluate and indicate the transformation and engine parameters.

What are the limitations of use – weather conditions, night flights, loadings?

In the first stages, emphasis was placed on confirming the concept functionality and verifying an atypical aerodynamic solution. In further development, the focus will be placed on the application of new technologies and the development of avionics for flights under IFR conditions. The AirCar two-seater version will have a payload up to 300kg and will be equipped with a rescue parachute system as standard. However, let us not forget that adverse weather conditions for inexperienced pilots without IFR qualification can be overcome in car mode.

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