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Rolls-Royce eVTOL
An artist’s conception shows Rolls-Royce’s eVTOL air vehicle flying over the Seattle skyline. (Rolls-Royce Illustration)

The next few days will bring dueling announcements from Boeing and Airbus about how many jetliners they’re selling, but one of the hottest tech frontiers at this week’s Farnborough International Airshow looks forward to something completely different: flying cars.

Aston Martin, the British car company that Agent 007 made famous in a string of James Bond movies, is getting into the act. So is the civil aerospace team at Rolls-Royce, a company that’s as British as it gets.

Today Rolls-Royce unveiled its concept for an electric-powered vertical-takeoff-and-landing craft — also known as an eVTOL — that can be used for personal transport, public transport. logistics and military applications.

Depending on who buys into the concept, the craft could take to the skies in the early to mid-2020s, Rolls-Royce said in a news release.

The low-noise, tilt-wing hexacopter would be powered initially by a rear-mounted M250 gas turbine that’s part of a hybrid electric propulsion system. Rolls-Royce says it could carry four to five passengers at speeds of up to 250 mph for roughly 500 miles, and could use existing infrastructure such as heliports and airports.

As battery technologies improve, the craft could conceivably make the switch to all-electric propulsion.

“Electrification is an exciting and inescapable trend across industrial technology markets,” said Rob Watson, the head of Rolls-Royce’s electrical team, “and while the move to more electric propulsion will be gradual for us, it will ultimately be a revolution.”

Rolls-Royce is also a partner in the Volante Vision Concept, Aston Martin’s luxury-class entry in the eVTOL market. Other partners include Cranfield University and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions.

“We are at the beginning of a new generation of urban transportation,” Marek Reichman, Aston Martin executive vice president and chief creative officer, said in a news release. “We have a unique chance to create a luxury concept aircraft that will represent the ultimate fusion of art and technology.”

The concept would make use of a hybrid-electric propulsion system, and carry up to three adults. There’s no timetable listed for turning the Volante Vision into reality. Rather, Aston Martin calls it a “near future study that previews a flying autonomous hybrid-electric vehicle for urban and inter-city air travel.”

Another flying-car company taking advantage of the Farnborough spotlight is PAL-V, a Dutch venture whose concept vehicle reflects Italian design features.

The roadable PAL-V Liberty is currently going through certification requirements — but orders for the convertible car-gyroplane are already being taken, at list prices starting at $350,000. The company says deliveries should begin by 2020.

Liberty’s specs claim that the dual-engine, propeller-driven vehicle can fly two people as fast as 112 mph, go as far as 300 miles through the air, and rise as high as 11,500 feet.

It seems as if the marketplace for flying cars (or air taxis, or personal air vehicles, depending on your definition) is getting more crowded every day.

Just last week, a stealthy Silicon Valley startup backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, known as Opener, unveiled its BlackFly prototype eVTOL vehicle. Page has invested in another startup called Kitty Hawk, which is upgrading its own eVTOL prototypes.

Other players include Uber and its aviation partners, Joby AviationTerrafugiaVerdeGo Aero, China’s EHang, Switzerland’s Passenger Drone, Germany’s Volocopter and Lilium, Slovakia’s AeroMobil and Japan’s Cartivator Project.

And yes, archrivals Boeing and Airbus are in this race as well.

Last year, the Boeing Co. acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, one of Uber’s air-taxi partners. Boeing is also the main sponsor of a $2 million grass-roots competition for personal air vehicles called the GoFly Prize.

Meanwhile, Airbus’ Vahana eVTOL prototype went through a round of testing at Oregon’s Pendleton UAS Test Range earlier this year.

Sounds like Agent 007 and the bad guys just might have a wide range of flying cars to choose from by the time the next James Bond movie comes out. Will Aston Martin’s luxury model take the starring role? Stay tuned…

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