Japanese engineers working on flying car

Chunichi Shimbun

Young automotive engineers working in the Mikawa district of Aichi Prefecture are developing a flying car.

Set to be completed in 2020, the flying vehicle is expected to be used in such cases as natural disasters. The Kumamoto earthquakes last month made the group even more determined to finish their work.

“We hope to complete it and get it ready for use as soon as possible,” said group leader Tsubasa Nakamura, 31, of Nisshin, Aichi Prefecture.

Last month, the group conducted a trial run on the grounds of an elementary school that has closed down in the city of Toyota. The propellers sent pebbles and sand flying as the prototype, which measures 30 cm by 60 cm, hovered 3 meters above the ground.

The group repeated tests to make sure the car rises steadily.

The prototype, one-fifth the size of the actual flying car, is a modified drone that can be controlled remotely.

Apart from the difference in size, the prototype has the exact same structure as the actual model. Made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, the three-wheel car has a motor and four propellers on each corner.

The group has created a full-size prototype, but since it is expensive and they cannot afford to make any mistakes, they are using the small prototype for basic tests.

Nakamura gathered other engineers he met through his work and established the group CART!VATOR in 2012.

The group consists of 20 members from Aichi, Tokyo and Shizuoka prefectures.

The fundraising and commercialization of the product are done mainly by members in Tokyo.

However, Nakamura said he decided to use Mikawa as the base for developing the car as “there are many engineers here and Mikawa has a great environment for creating new products.”

Nakamura has loved cars since he was a child. He studied mechanical engineering in Keio University and was involved in a project to develop racing cars.

He began developing a flying car in 2014 to present “a new form of cars for the next generation,” starting with a small and simple prototype that uses a toy motor to run the propellers.

Using ¥2.6 million he collected through crowdfunding, Nakamura built a full-scale prototype flying car at the beginning of 2015 with the help of an engineer from Kyoto.

The prototype runs on a motor used for gliders and has successfully stayed 1 meter above ground for four seconds in one of the tests.

The actual car will run on a motor used in electric vehicles and the group plans to change the material of the car from aluminum to CFRP, which will reduce its weight from 180 kg to 100 kg.

Nakamura said the main advantage of the flying car is its ability to take off and land vertically, which means it does not need a runway.

The car seats one and has a steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal so it can be driven like a normal car.

The group aims to build a “dream car” that can run on a normal road and take off directly for a drive in the sky.

Landslides, fallen trees and collapsed structures blocked many roads when the Kumamoto earthquakes struck.

“A flying car will be able to help quickly with the rescue mission and delivery of supplies,” said Nakamura.

“It’s an important technology that can save lives, so I hope to get this finished as soon as possible,” he added.

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The original article was published on May 10 in Chunichi Shimbun

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