La voiture qui vole, c’est pour bientôt ?

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« Là où l’on va, on n’a pas besoin de route. » Cette phrase, qui clôt le film Retour vers le futur juste avant que la fameuse DeLorean ne prenne son envol, est restée gravée dans l’imaginaire des spectateurs… Et des ingénieurs. Qui n’ont jamais cessé d’essayer de matérialiser le fantasme de la voiture qui vole en s’inspirant des véhicules de Blade Runner ou du Cinquième élément. Alors, aller au boulot en passant par les nuages, c’est pour quand ?

Auto-persuasion

La voiture qui vole n’est pas un fantasme récent. Au contraire, elle découle d’un vieux rêve qui titille l’imaginaire des ingénieurs depuis le début du XXe siècle. En 1940, Henry Ford s’engageait fermement en faveur d’une imagerie de science-fiction appelée à devenir réalité : il affirmait alors qu’une combinaison entre l’avion et l’automobile verrait le jour dans l’avenir.

Sauf exceptions, le reste appartient au domaine de la fantaisie. Si l’objet de la S-F consiste à ouvrir la voie au futur en entretenant nos fantasmes technologiques, il est peu dire que celui d’un véhicule qui pourrait s’élever au-dessus des embouteillages aux heures de pointe a, depuis longtemps, nourri les espoirs des êtres humains.

Toutefois, la voiture volante n’a pas toujours été une idée folle, réduite à divertir les masses sur grand écran ou papier glacé. Des modèles ont bel et bien été imaginés et construits. Plusieurs autos ont même volé. Jusqu’à présent, les contraintes du réel (mise au point, moyens financiers, rentabilité) ont été plus fortes, et les voitures sont restées scotchées au tarmac. Mais demain ?

La voiture qui vole, c’est pour bientôt 2

Voiture qui vole ou avion qui roule ?

Dès 1917, un aviateur américain, Glenn Curtiss, s’est mis en tête de faire voler un tas de ferraille : l’Autoplane, affublé d’hélices et d’ailes de biplan. C’était le coup d’envoi de tout un siècle d’essais divers et variés pour matérialiser la voiture qui vole, et qui ont vu se développer au moins 6 projets prometteurs à partir des années 50, notamment l’Autoplane revisité de Robert Lebouder en 1973.

Le problème, c’est que ces prototypes embarquaient tous le même paradigme : il s’agissait plus d’avions qui roulent que de voitures qui volent. D’où l’interrogation sur la viabilité d’un tel projet : comment décoller, s’il faut pour cela une piste de plusieurs centaines de mètres de long ? Est-ce bien raisonnable de devoir se rendre à l’aéroport pour prendre son véhicule quotidien ?

Pour Elon Musk, le bouillonnant patron de SpaceX et de Tesla, concevoir une voiture qui vole n’est pas le plus compliqué. Le souci, selon lui, c’est tout le reste : la formation nécessaire à la maîtrise d’un tel véhicule ; les infrastructures ; et la sécurité. Il marque un point : rappelez-vous le désordre que met Bruce Willis avec son taxi dans Le Cinquième élément en seulement 5 mn de film !

La technologie, bloquée, n’avance plus depuis longtemps. D’aucuns diraient que la science « stagne », pour reprendre une critique formulée par un des personnages de la série Big Bang Theory. Et, en effet, que répondrait-on à un visiteur venu du début du XXe siècle qui nous demanderait où sont les voitures volantes ? Ce serait sans doute : tais-toi et roule en voiture hybride.

La voiture qui vole, c’est pour bientôt 4

Y’en a même qui disent qu’ils l’ont vu voler

Néanmoins, les ingénieurs (qui sont les Dr Frankenstein modernes) n’abandonnent pas. De sorte que plusieurs projets sont sur le feu pour tenter de donner vie à l’auto volante :

  • Le prototype d’Aeromobil, une société slovaque, doté d’une autonomie de 700 km avec une vitesse de 200 km/h dans les airs – 160 km/h sur route, mais à condition de bien replier ses ailes de 6 m d’envergure, histoire d’éviter de devoir dresser des constats avec la moitié des automobilistes du pays. Cet enfin aurait besoin de 200 m de piste pour décoller, tout de même (ou d’un tronçon d’autoroute un dimanche matin à l’aube). L’entrepreneur espérait pouvoir lancer ses premiers modèles commerciaux en 2017. Le couac, c’est que cette voiture volante si prometteuse a fini, en mai dernier, sa course… dans l’herbe.
  • L’auto volante Xplorair, inventée par un ingénieur toulousain, Michel Aguilar, un ancien employé de la Direction générale de l’Armement du ministère de la Défense. Son appareil pourrait décoller à la verticale, sans hélices et sans roulage. Aguilar a levé 25 millions d’euros auprès d’un investisseur chinois, et parie sur une mise en vente en 2020. Mais gageons que, financièrement, un tel véhicule ne sera pas accessible au moindre… pékin.
  • La voiture qui vole de Terrafugia, une société américaine, est aujourd’hui le projet le plus sérieux. Cette auto, dotée d’hélices d’hélicoptère, pourrait voler sur 800 km et atteindre une vitesse de 320 km/h, de quoi s’assurer d’être à l’heure au travail quoi qu’il arrive. Possible commercialisation à partir de 2023.

À l’heure où l’on nous vend la voiture connectée comme étant la prochaine grande avancée technologique dans le domaine de la mobilité, des esprits un peu fous continuent de plancher sur le fantasme d’un véhicule qui pourrait aussi bien rouler sur le tarmac que déployer ses ailes. Espérons qu’ils ne voleront pas trop près du Soleil.

Pour en savoir plus : lire Les voitures volantes, souvenirs d’un futur rêvé, Patrick J. Gyger, éd. Favre.

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