Sunday, August 19, 2012

Flying Cars

Flying cars have been the fancy of many over the years.  This concept is to make flying vehicles road worthy and thus able to take home an put it in your garage, assuming you just don't store junk in the garage but actually use it for vehicles (yeah right).  Robert Fulton debuted the Airphibian in 1946, and Moulton Taylor improved on Fulton's design with the Aerocar in 1949.  It was just after the war and Americans were getting out on the road traveling, even in campers.  The Aerocar towed its wings, tail and propeller as a trailer behind the car portion.  This idea was reinvigorated for a short time in 1980's with the use of a Honda CRX by Taylor.  This was an attempt at taking a production car and adding a wing and tail kit that was towed and then put together to fly.  I loved this idea.  I was a teen in the 1980's and to compound the fantasy of driving and flying, the movie Back To The Future came out.  Its last scene had the star car lift and fly into the future.  The Airphibian and the Aerocar were aircraft that could be driven on the road.  A car weigh approximately 2000 lbs without wings.  A Cessna 350 weighs similar but with wings.  It would seem a difficult task to merge these two techs whichever way you cut it.  Well, now there is a new flying car effort underway.  Let's look at 3 promising examples that have actually flown in prototype.

Terrafugia is a company that created another roadable aircraft but this one has folding wings and only with a push of a button it transforms from a road vehicle to an air vehicle.  The Aerocar required some manual setup for the same conversion.  Yes, it looks like the love child of a small propeller plane and family size car.  Strange to look at and probably strange to drive too.  It's longer than a common car and taller with the wings folded.  I assume you need to drive it with the care for spaces as you do a truck.  On the Terrafugia website, the expected price is about $279,000.00.  YIKES! Getting a space ticket with Virgin Galactic is cheaper than that.  Don't scratch the paint.  On the plus side it could increase you commute range to work.

Maverick is an off road vehicle in more ways than one.  Sure, it's roadable, but some people want to go where there are no roads and want to cross over a gorge or a river valley with less difficulty.  If your such a person, then this vehicle is for you.  It uses parasail tech and a unique deployment system to chance from road machine to flying machine.  It's not all that fast in flight, just about 40 mph.  It is light and fast on the ground.  It's the only off road flying car I know about.  Maybe in the future there will be more.

PAL-V ONE is a European flying car.  Well, car might be stretching it.  It is enclosed, but it drives like a motorcycle by leaning into the curvy roads.  If you feel like its missing a wheel, don't.  It has 3 wheels, one in the front and two in the back.  It seats two, but in tandem.  It's flying technique is that of an autogyro.  What's an autogyro?  Well, it was the predecessor to the helicopter.  Its a rotary wing aircraft that has a pusher propeller and is a short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft.  It seems pretty nice and seems to be pretty cool.  It has some interesting fold up features with the propeller and the mast for the rotors.  Yet, it does require setup time for the change from road warrior to angel flight.  As a STOL craft, it doesn't require a full runway, but a short space to take off.  Modern autogyros have a powered rotation system to start the rotors and can literally jump in the air from a stand still and fly.  I don't see that capability here, yet it must have some powered rotation system otherwise you have to start the rotors by hand.  It's cool and good looking, but did the Dutch get it right?  Not many people are attracted to an autogyro, but I am.  I like the STOL feature, and the enclosed driving and flying experience.  You have to wonder what the maintenance expense would be like.  The autogyro setup is much less expensive to maintain than a helicopter, but that's not really saying much.  As a custom and unique vehicle I expect maintenance to be pricey.

There you have it, 3 very different flying cars to choose from: Terrafugia with a car-plane combo, Mavrick with a off road car-paraglider combo, or PAL-V with a enclosed trike-autogyro combo.  Whatever you choose there's one thing you should take notice of and that thing is power lines.  Yeah, well, you know.  Got to be safe and all that.  Being zapped by upteenthousand volts tens of feet in the air isn't that nice.  Our society just isn't set up for flying cars.  I mean each of these need a road license and a flight license.  Then the driver need a driving license and a pilot's license.  On the positive side the FAA is licensing these as Light Sport Aircraft.  So perhaps there is some wind in their wings after all.