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From Buck Rogers in 1939 to Blade Runner 2049…

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Right now, on a big screen near you, Ryan Gosling’s character in Blade Runner 2049 is piloting a flying car known as a “Spinner” to hunt down renegade androids – replicants.


Image result for blade runner 2049

The flying car is an idea so old it’s almost timeless.

But I trace its modern beginnings back to 1926, when Henry Ford himself showed off the “sky flivver” – a tiny, 350-pound, single-seat monoplane – to the press.

Call it a “sky flivver,” a “plane car,” a “personal aircraft,” or a “flying car”… we’ve been waiting a long time.

In fact, “Where’s my flying car!?” is the cliché many folks use when they’re disappointed that the present fails to measure up to what they were “promised.”

Just think of all the flying cars we’ve seen over the years in movies, TV shows, and other Hollywood concoctions: in the 1939 Buck Rogers TV show… in the 1950s Space Cabbie comic books… in the 1962 The Jetsons cartoon… in the 1980s Back to the Future flicks… Bruce Willis piloting a flying taxicab in the 1997 movie The Fifth Element.

“Mark my word. A combination airplane and motor car is coming,” Ford said a few years after he first displayed his sky flivver. “You may smile. But it will come.”

Now mark my word. It will come.

You may smile, or even laugh. Feel free.

But the fact is, flying cars are coming – fast.

In fact, one company I’ve followed closely for decades just bought a startup focused on autonomous air taxis.

And I believe that company is the single best way to play this emerging tech trend.

Let’s take a look…

From Overseas War Zones to Your Front Door

When it comes to flying vehicles today, drones – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – grab all the attention. That’s because they’re here already – and they face a lot of growth.

You know about their military use thanks to what we see on the news every night.

You’ve probably seen hobbyists using them in parks and at big gatherings.

Maybe you’ve noticed industry and government exploiting them for law enforcement, agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and real-estate inspections.

And, of course, everybody from Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) to Domino’s Pizza Inc. (Nasdaq: DPZ) wants to use them as delivery vehicles.

MarketsandMarkets says the drones sector is growing at roughly 20% a year. By 2022, the global sector will be worth roughly $21 billion.

But the real killer app for this field isn’t the end of the pizza delivery boy – it’s the autonomous air taxi. Think of these as passenger drones.

With flying cabs, we’ll ride to work or go out for a night on the town in a plane that flies itself. As futuristic as it sounds, the field is taking steps forward on an almost daily basis.

More than a dozen startups are developing flying cars. They’re backed by such luminaries as Alphabet Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOGL) cofounder Larry Page, the ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc., and even the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.

Check out Kitty Hawk Corp. During a recent test flight, an aerospace engineer used two joystick-like controls to swing a Kitty Hawk vehicle back and forth above Clear Lake in Northern California, not far from the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The flight, just 15 feet above the water, circled over the lake about 20 or 30 yards from shore. After about five minutes, the pilot steered the craft back to a floating landing pad at the end of a dock.

Enter Big Aerospace…

Then there’s Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. The Manassas, Virginia-based firm has garnered industry buzz for its autonomous systems that allow military and commercial aircraft to be flown remotely. The firm’s software provides the technology that automates a range of flight functions.

On Oct. 5, The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) announced that it has bought Aurora.

These two firms have already been working together for the past decade on both commercial and military applications. The merger allows Boeing to fully control Aurora’s advanced tech.

It’s no surprise that Boeing wants to move quickly and be an early mover here.

Boeing and its team of global suppliers play a key role in a $6.1 trillion market. That’s projected commercial industry aircraft demand over the next 20 years, according to an upwardly revised forecast from the firm.

Thanks to a stunning $11.1 billion spent on R&D in just the past three years, Boeing now offers the industry’s most advanced jetliners. These planes are far more fuel efficient, can travel farther distances, and fit more passengers and cargo than planes launched just a decade ago.

Boeing brings a range of options to air carriers with its modern fleet. For example, the 787 Dreamliner, with its ability to carry more than 300 passengers, now covers 130 global routes. One version of the plane can fly 7,355 nautical miles.

The Boeing 777X, an update of a classic design, brings the best of both worlds, can carry more than 400 passengers and fly 8,700 nautical miles.

Next up is the Boeing 797, slated to enter service in 2025. That plane will deploy more advanced lightweight materials to bring radical improvements in fuel economy.

… Big Defense…

Boeing is also one of the top defense contractors. The Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDSS) division is a leading provider of jet fighters, helicopters, and, more recently, drones.

Boeing’s AH-64 Apache, for example, is the world’s most advanced multirole combat helicopter. The U.S. Army and a range of foreign militaries have logged millions of hours of flight time on more than 2,200 Apaches.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber, despite dating back to the 1950s, has been constantly modernized and is still the first choice for many tough missions.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet can fly at supersonic speeds and still land on the short platform of an aircraft carrier.

While BDSS has seen its sales slip from their peak in 2010, it has still racked up an impressive $70 billion in revenue over the past five years.

And coming defense spending plans suggest this figure should rise by double digits over the next five-year cycle…

… and Big Space

Plus, Boeing has always been a major force in space.

And I expect the value of the space industry to more than triple from roughly $350 billion this year to $1.1 trillion in 2040.

The firm’s satellite launchers, space shuttles, and support role in the International Space Station brings in high-margin sales and insights that can be applied across the firm.

Boeing’s exposure to the commercial, military, and space markets brings a strong and profitable platform. And its early push into autonomous air taxis is just one of the ways the firm plans to bring even more gains to investors in the future.

Since 2009, Boeing has had a “book-to-bill” ratio of greater than 1.0. That means the firm has been taking in orders for new planes even faster than it can build them.

Right now, Boeing has a backlog of 5,700 planes on order. That will take many years to fill, even if new orders dried up tomorrow.

Shares of Boeing opened today at $256.49, valuing the firm at $152.79 billion. The company brings in stunning amounts of cash and has earned nearly $21 billion over the past three years.

Nearly all of that is returned to investors.

Boeing’s dividend has risen at least 20% for four straight years and should keep growing at a fast clip. Plus, Boeing is poised to boost per-share profits by more than 30% this year, to around $10.

If you hope to hail an air taxi someday, you better start planning now.

And one of the best ways to start piling up big gains that you can put aside for just that big ride is Boeing.

Have a great week.

See you back here soon.

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