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High-Flying Hopes, But the Media Auto Know Better
January 11, 2009 1:06 AM   Subscribe

First came the Whatsit/Arrowplane (1936) ("Model T's of the air for the common man") and the Arrowbile Flying Auto, three of which were flown to the National Air Races in 1937. Both were creations of Waldo Waterman. Then came Molt Taylor's Aerocar (a great success), followed by the Waterman Aerobile (a spectacular failure). In 1945, Robert Fulton introduced the Airphibian, and the CIA ordered several. Flash forward to today. There have been many promising flying cars. Terrafugia is marketing a $194,000 "drivable plane" which it intends to release in late 2009. It hasn't yet been test-flown. So why is it being heralded by media outlets as the "World's First Flying Car"? posted by terranova (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
part of the problem is regulation. If we totally deregulated aerospace, people would make and sell all kinds of contraptions, some of which would be very carlike. On the downside, a lot of people would die trying fly shitty, home-made airplanes. but hey, what are you going to do.

(Also, we already have flying cars. They're called "helicopters")
posted by delmoi at 1:23 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


A British engineer has created an ethanol-powered road-legal flying car with a range of 180-miles. All you need is a one day course and a powered-parachute license to fly the Skycar.

“I started making a paramotor on wheels that you sit on and take off and it suddenly occurred to me, ‘Why not just have a car that does everything?’” said Gilo Cardozo, who owns a Wiltshire-based company called Parajet.

Cardozo plans to fly the vehicle 3,700 miles from England to Timbuktu on January 14th to prove that the vehicle is a fully-functional flying machine.

“It will be a serious aircraft but also a proper road machine, with acceleration to match your average sports car,” said Cardozo. “I’m not going to sell millions of them but even if we sell 20 we’ll be laughing.”

Once it’s in the air, Cardozo says the vehicle can reach speeds of 80 mph. The car is equipped with a rocket-launched emergency parachute to use in the case of a malfunction or damage to the parachute-wing. While on land, the small buggy looks totally normal if you ignore the large fan strapped to the back.
posted by netbros at 1:29 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


part of the problem is regulation.

Icon Aircraft will soon be offering a $139K light sport aircraft that can be flown "with only a driver's license and 20 hours of flight training."

[Sound of flight controllers weeping]
posted by terranova at 1:36 AM on January 11, 2009


The other problem is that when people say "flying car" they mean vertical takeoff. No one is impressed by an airplane that can drive on regular roads but needs a regular runway to take off.
posted by delmoi at 1:50 AM on January 11, 2009


The whole "flying car" thing strikes me as kind of insane. Run out of fuel? You die. Fender bender? You die. But not just you. Also everyone below you on the lower levels of air traffic. I'm talking about those science fiction fantasies about multi-level urban flying traffic, as seen in movies like The Fifth Element.
posted by Edgewise at 3:27 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do Not Want
posted by woodway at 4:02 AM on January 11, 2009


edgewise: this is a common misconception. You are thinking about cars flying in one dimenstional lanes of traffic like cars, but airplanes fly in 3 dimensions. The traffic density is vastly lower so collisions caused by engine out are very unlikely. Any traffic control mechanism at all would completely eliminate this as a possiblity. The 5th element's flying car scene is imaginary, thats not how it would work at all.

The Terrafugia is not going to work though. Look at the tires: one pothole and you have damaged the airframe. Imagine driving down the road and rocks flying up, wedging into the cracks in the wings. Every time you took it on the road you'd have to do a full-scale examination to make sure nothing is broken.
posted by Osmanthus at 4:18 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Icon Aircraft will soon be offering a $139K light sport aircraft that can be flown "with only a driver's license and 20 hours of flight training."

That's not as bad as it sounds. The '20 hours of flight training' is actually them just paying for you to go through the Light Sports License, which is just a restricted license (day light and good visibility only). It is similar to the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) style restrictions that the UK has for the first level of pilot license. It's really not as 'throw them up in the sky' as it sounds.

I do like that Icon, though. It's a little bit horny to look at.

So why is it being heralded by media outlets as the "World's First Flying Car"?

Because Journalists are lazy hacks? They do mention some of the other projects (extremely briefly in passing) but it seems the 'only' relates to the fact that all the 'plane' bits stay on the 'car' bits all the time. The other projects had removable wings and the like that got stored elsewhere - they weer more 'car that converts to plane' than 'plane=car' like this one is purported to be.
posted by Brockles at 8:18 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The whole "flying car" thing strikes me as kind of insane. Run out of fuel? You die. Fender bender? You die. But not just you. Also everyone below you on the lower levels of air traffic.

And the ground.

One of the fascinating myths / desires of the tech-community (e.g. sites like Slashdot) is that of the flying car. Relevant threads crop up regularly, with fans bewailing how the government is getting in the way of personal aviation, why doesn't Moller hurry up with his Skycar, and how there's really no mechanical, social or human problems preventing us from each having and using our own personal aircraft. None that doesn't have a (inevitably) technical solution, anyway. (Here insert collision detection, auto-pilots, auto-rotation, parachutes, artificial intelligence ...)

Quite why this myth has such a grip is an interesting question. Is it because flight is such a (literally) fantastic thing to most of us? Is it an obvious symbol of the future: "We'll all have jetpacks and live on the Moon!" Is it the allure of independence - just get up and fly away? Or some belief that air travel has got to be better than coping with traffic or public transport? For whatever reason, defenders overlook a host of problems - fuel consumption and cost, that any malfunction places aircraft passengers and those on the ground below it in a potentially lethal situation, the need for regular servicing and checking of aircraft, the need to know how to navigate in the air, that the skies are already over-crowded in many places.

Insane? Maybe not. Impractical? Oh, yes.
posted by outlier at 8:25 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seconding the paramotor idea. This seems vastly safer and more tractable than adding wings to a car, and it has its own parachute for cripes sake! As cars get lighter, more aerodynamic, more fuel efficient, this seems even more plausible. Can't you see the Aptera with a parasail?

As for crowded skies, doesn't that apply more to commercial flight, which is usually at an entirely different altitude than most private aviation?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:31 AM on January 11, 2009


Flying Car sounds all kinds of sexy and mass marketable, Roadable Aircraft not so much.
posted by mandal at 8:33 AM on January 11, 2009


As for crowded skies, doesn't that apply more to commercial flight, which is usually at an entirely different altitude than most private aviation?

Er. No. Think of cities. Where all the aircraft (Commercial or otherwise, and any flying cars that live in such a dense population) all need to be either on the ground, getting to where they can be on the ground, or the various levels in between. Glide paths to land take up a hell of a lot of room.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2009


Whatever to flying cars - I want to go skydive for awhile and learn how to wingsuit at 100mph past the cliffs in Sweden.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:19 AM on January 11, 2009


"As cars get lighter, more aerodynamic, more fuel efficient..."

Then the time for this would have been the mid-1980's, since cars have gotten heavier, more brick-like, and less fuel-efficient ever since. Remember diesel Rabbits getting 60mpg? Gasoline-powered Ford Escorts at 50+? Strap a wing on one of those, then you'd have a lightweight flying machine.

Oh, wait, people on the ground would be in danger of being hit by the rusted parts falling off them.
posted by Johnny Porno at 9:28 AM on January 11, 2009


That Skycar concept looks like the first one I've seen worth talking about. He has a reasonable mission in mind as well (such as transporting doctors to locations where infrastructure has failed in an affordable way).

Whoever posted that we do have flying cars - called helicopters - already, got it right. If you talk about anything needing a runway I rapidly start wondering where the mainstream appeal is. Even if you are only talking 20 hours of lessons (like the Icon) it quickly becomes apparent that the time and expense of flight doesn't make sense unless you are going considerable distances (more than most commutes). And the only advantage is not needing a car to drive at the end? Why not just rent?

Even if you want to use an airplane to commute you can own a car for each end of your trip and a better performing airplane for the cost of one of these contraptions.

That said, the Icon does look cool, and I definitely understand the appeal of any airplane that you can fold up and put on a trailer. Hanger space is expensive and tie-downs leave you exposed to the elements.
posted by meinvt at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2009


As cars get lighter, more aerodynamic, more fuel efficient...

Ummm...except the aerodynamics of modern cars are intended to keep them stable and efficient on the ground and not produce lift. Sort of exactly the opposite of what you would need for an efficient flyer.

And, what is with that Terrafugia site? I can't get a single image or video to load.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:44 AM on January 11, 2009


The paramotor buggy idea is simply brilliant. No troublesome folding wings, and since paramotors are slow anyway, a car's less-than-optimal aerodynamics matter less. Better to avoid flying in strong headwinds, though...

However, I suspect it'll get more interest from Special Forces and mercenary guys than from flying doctors...
posted by Skeptic at 12:26 PM on January 11, 2009


Every time you took it on the road you'd have to do a full-scale examination to make sure nothing is broken.

I agree, and I think this is going to be the case, always, for "flying cars". They are aircraft, and they need the kind of rigorous maintenance and upkeep that most people cannot provide.
posted by Mister_A at 2:23 PM on January 11, 2009


We need the flying car if only to calm Avery Brooks down.
posted by adamg at 7:58 PM on January 11, 2009


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