Chinese automaker XPeng has updated the design of its AeroHT flying car – a luxury electric sports car with a deployable vertical lift octacopter system on the roof. It looks absolutely insane, but a two-ton flying prototype suggests it’s no joke.
When we first met this machine about 12 months ago, it looked a lot cooler and was also a ton more dangerous. The original design of the HT Aero flying supercar used a much more compact VTOL system with only two electric rotors with large diameter blades. These were mounted on articulated arms designed to fold under the rear bodywork of the car, creating an exceptionally nice and sci-fi looking design, albeit at the expense of safety and complexity.
It makes sense that the company switched to an eight-propeller system for the latest design – that adds plenty of redundancy in case something goes wrong. However, it is much bulkier and as a result the new design looks less like a Minority Report hypercar and more like a luxury electric rally-raider with a massive box on top, as you can see in the render video below.
The newest XPENG AEROHT flying car presents
However, the dream is the same: Xpeng wants to offer a real flying car that you can drive down the highway and then lift up vertically to drive through traffic jams. Launched last year with a massive half-billion dollar bank account, AeroHT is also working on an eVTOL aerotaxi design that has just flown to the public in Dubai. But the thing is a simple manned multicopter like we’ve seen many times before.
The eVTOL flying car, on the other hand, is the kind of crazy idea that very few other companies are even experimenting with—certainly none with that kind of money behind it.
Why not? If weight is the enemy of flight, it is the mortal enemy of electric VTOL flight – especially for wingless multicopter designs like this one that need to constantly burn energy to stay airborne. Lithium batteries are heavy enough that even single-purpose manned multicopters suffer from severely limited endurance and range.
Street electric cars are typically very heavy on their own; must pass crash tests. They need separate power units for road driving, suspension, brakes, big wheels, windshield wipers and cup holders along with big big heavy batteries. The practical little AeroHT aerotaxi weighs around 560 kg (1,235 lb) without anyone sitting in it, and it still only takes 35 minutes to run out of battery. The weight of a flying car could end up being more than four times that, and yet only two people fly.
And yet here we are looking at a full-sized X3 flying car prototype in the air. It weighs a whopping 1,936 kg (4,268 lb), roughly mimics the body shape of the renders, and looks pretty good from the front. It looks a lot less cool from the sides and back, but a body is just a body.
A huge eight-rotor coaxial vertical lift system is mounted on top and appears to be a fully rigid configuration with no collapsible capability. With that much weight to lift, the VTOL frame itself is very sturdy, and the power units are mounted on what appear to be steel girders.
A flying car test vehicle has successfully completed its first flight
In the example fight video above, the team successfully drives the thing out of the garage under its own power. Then it rises, hovers, flies a little carefully, and returns to a nice, soft-looking landing. AeroHT says it also conducted several single-rotor failure tests.
No range or endurance information is given, and indeed, given the sheer size of this strange machine, we’d be surprised if it could currently stay in the air long enough to listen to a full song on the radio – and that’s probably without the automatic folding boom and much of the road equipment. The company claims it’s “comparable to any conventional car in terms of functionality and measurements”, instead of any performance or speed figures, and says that in flight mode the driver/pilot will control the aircraft using a steering wheel and right-hand gear stick.
It’s no wonder the X3 flies – it’s an aeronautical truism that with enough thrust you can make a fly. The amazing thing about the X3 is that it does there is – it’s not a render, there’s a team and a prototype and a pretty healthy budget and plan to make it a product. AeroHT seems serious. We’ll be amazed again if this machine actually hits the market in 2024 as a street flying car, but then AeroHT will have half a billion dollars to play with, plus friendly Chinese auto and aviation authorities to work with. they have already shown that they are willing to give some impressive space to companies that are moving the technology forward.
Since it appears to be designed as an aircraft for personal use rather than a commercial aerotaxi, it’s likely to go through only a tiny fraction of the red tape that other eVTOL companies go through to get type certification. And we wonder what tricks XPeng might have up its sleeve when it comes to homologating this thing for street use – the parent company is expanding its EV capabilities at a rapid pace.
So while it seems incredibly ambitious and probably impractical, this odd duck may have a better chance than most. An interesting project to look at.
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