Where is My Flying Car?

Where is My Flying Car?The dream of flying cars has long been a staple in the world of geekery, emphasized in the 1980s by the Back to the Future series, and solidified as a dream through countless prototypes and inventive hopefuls. Unfortunately, that dream has yet to become a reality.

I remember seeing demonstrations of what could be classified as flying cars, planes that fold their wings in order to fit into a standard single-car garage, vehicles marketed towards the very rich that don’t do very well on the road and only fly a very limited distance, and other crazy concepts that never made it past the drawing board.

More recently, at the New York Auto Show, a flying car design was unveiled that promises a truly street-capable vehicle with flying capabilities priced at around $279,000. This vehicle, named the Transition by its manufacturer, Terrafugia, has already been pre-ordered by over 100 individuals that are sure to enjoy beating the morning commute.

The Reality

Every time I get on a bend about how great something would be if it were only real, someone (likely in the comments below) will point out exactly why it wouldn’t be such a grand idea. After all, the reason many of our dreams never reach realization in our lifetimes is because it would jar our way of living so quickly, it would be almost impossible for folks to adapt.

Governments would have a cow trying to regulate around a situation where everyone and anyone could fly a vehicle they keep in their garage. Just think about the Internet. It took them a while, but governments are doing their best to regulate it to the point where we can’t say or do anything without risking being taken to court or losing our domain. SOPA anyone?

Imagine truly having flying cars sold at auto dealerships, and flyable by everyday folks on the road. How deadly would a fender bender become? Could you imagine someone cutting you off as you headed to work that day? What about the occasional nutter that decides to take a dive into the roof of your home?

All of these considerations have to be made, and at the very least, we should expect heavy licensing and regulation of any vehicle capable of lifting off the ground.

Flying is also not as easy as it looks. As any pilot would tell you, it’s actually one of the more difficult things someone can do. As many times as you hear about modern aircraft practically flying themselves, that isn’t a feasible solution for flying vehicles just yet. We can’t even get regular cars to drive themselves correctly, though we’re getting pretty close thanks to Google.

Here’s the problem, we’re not there yet and we won’t be anytime soon. Fact is, as long as these flying car prototypes require to be in constant motion to stay aloft, you’ll never see something like this work for the masses. So many things can go wrong, and so little of our current technology is truly capable of dealing with it.

Even with the Transition, 20 hours of flight time is required to receive the proper licensing to pilot it. Takeoff and landing also can’t happen on your standard roadway, as you’re still required to use an airport’s facilities to takeoff and land.

After all, as Terrafugia states on its official site, “The Transition isn’t designed to replace anyone’s car, but it could replace your airplane.”

What is Possible

The Transition is a remarkable design, which overcomes some of the obstacles previous attempts at flying automobiles ran into. For example: a full vehicle parachute provides an excellent boost to safety, especially if something goes wrong.

The vehicle itself is fitted with a safety cage, crumple zone, and airbags which allows it to meet at least some of today’s safety standards for automobiles.

The wings fold nicely, creating a structure that is only 2m x 2.3m x 6m and can fit in a garage.

The Transition also burns regular automotive gasoline from a 23 gallon tank. This is a significant cost savings over many other commercially-available aircraft. In fact, both air and road use of the Transition draw from the same tank.

Small aircraft such as personal sport vehicles don’t travel in the same commercial airspace as the larger planes do, and as such, this is a mode of transportation that is available to pilots looking to head out of town or enjoy a flight during the day without rigorous schedule requirements or the hassle of congested airspace. You still have to file a flight plan and perform other necessary functions, if required by your local laws.

Final Thoughts

While I’m excited to see cheaper planes become available, and the potential of a vehicle that can land at an airport and drive out without the need of a secondary vehicle on standby, I’m not overly excited about seeing some of my fellow drivers in control of a vehicle that can spin out of control in additional directions.

There are a surprising number of potential concepts hitting the public space recently. Chris Pirillo, the founder of LockerGnome, brought the Pal-V to my attention. Pal-V is a mix between a car and a helicopter that has a remarkably clever design. Boasting 28 MPG on the street and over 9 GPH in the air, the Pal-V is slightly more fuel efficient than the Transition. Below is a video of the first test flight.

Perhaps in another several decades artificial intelligence will become powerful enough to safeguard us from being ourselves. Perhaps avionics will advance to the point where being stuck in a mid-flight traffic jam won’t cause you to risk your very life. Until then, the dream of piloting your car to get around the commute of daily traffic will remain just that, a dream.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Janson/100001759088427 Jeremy Janson

    “After all, the reason many of our dreams never reach realization in our
    lifetimes is because it would jar our way of living so quickly, it would
    be almost impossible for folks to adapt.” Ummm… No. The world doesn’t care whether something jars your way of living. Just ask all the farmhands and cowboys kicked off the farms on which they worked with the arrival of John Deeres and Railroads. Or, for that matter, all the people out of work in Detroit now that car manufacturers are heading down South. Or all the surfers kicked out of SoCal because their property taxes went up. Usually things don’t become a reality because the distribution of resources doesn’t favor it. Also usually why change occur – the distribution of resources favors it.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Great comment. Allow me to respond to these points individually.

      – As for the sudden freedom causing a jarring impact on us a society… do you believe I was referring to the individual people? Governments would have a cow trying to regulate around a situation where everyone and anyone could fly a vehicle they keep in their garage. Just think about the Internet. It took them a while, but governments are doing their best to regulate it to the point where we can’t say or do anything without risking being taken to court or losing our domain. SOPA anyone?

      – A plane is much more dangerous than a moped. I know what you mean, but when I can’t protect my property with a few safety poles, there’s a problem. Yes, some businesses place concrete poles outside to prevent a car from just smashing through the property. A plane dive bombing your roof because the driver ran out of gas or forgot how to drive… big problem. Put thousands of flying objects above me and add drunk driving to the mix. No thank you.

      – Fuel costs is actually not a huge issue with the this particular flying car… 5 gph burn during cruise in flight. That’s not a gas guzzler by plane standards.

      Thanks so much for commenting, you gave me a lot to think about. I hope my answers clarified any points I might have missed in the article.

      • Gatekeeperlive1979

        I had an idea as a child that I’ve seen partially arrive, levitation transport. The Levitation Train uses magnetism in a simple array to propel, slow, or stop, as well as reverse. I feel a refining of these principles may be the way of the future

  • Kyle Polansky

    I think these are a great invention, but I just can’t see how they can realistically be used. Finding runways will be close to impossible. I doubt highway patrol is going to let me go 3 times the speed limit to take off, and commercial airports are so concerned about security and pricing that it’s a poor choice for short trips. For long trips, you run into other issues, like storing enough energy to fly over long distances. My guess is that this car was developed for smaller executives that make frequent trips to smaller cities. Larger companies will have corporate jets with their own pilots, and I just can’t see someone flying their car in places with crowded airspace.

    This is the biggest issue I see with the idea today. Anyone with enough money to purchase one of these will spend time taking proper training classes. However, if the price drops for reasonable people to afford them, then there will be more idiots and then the government will start placing restrictions on them. At that point, the idea will probably fail. Just take a look at how much effort it took to stop SOPA, and even after the blackouts and petitions, some people still voted for it.

    I have a feeling that this type of travel will be more common for mid distance trips, but I think land travel will be fastest for short trips, such as a work commute, and commercial airlines will probably have cheaper prices for transcontinental flights. To really succeed, I feel that a lot of effort will have to be put into private airstrips, and that a company like Google with their self-driving cars, should develop software to drive the plane so that users won’t have to worry about in-air traffic jams or anything like that.

  • dovidhalevi

    Flight is a universal dream–evidence the recent wing-flapping video hoax.

    Flying cars come in second. The “Transition” is a nice piece of design. There are also two dual-fucilage designs where the wing fold between the two hulls. Burt Rutan (THE aircraft genius of our times) has one drive the car from one side, get out and get into the others side to fly. Two separate and simpler systems.

    However, if the gas runs out or the engine fails, a car can coast to a stop at the side of the road. I doubt most of these aircraft have the glide characteristics that most amateur pilots could safely land in the rough. The FAA experimental rating is not a consumer confidence-builder.

    Enter the auto-gyro!  Kit auto-gyros were advertised in the back of Popular Mechanics type magazines when I was a kid. Claimed to be the safest aircraft. Short (NOT vertical) takeoff and landing, auto-rotate down if power fails. Rotors (these are not powered but most designs need to be spun up before the takeoff run) are more compact than fixed wings.

    One still needs that pilot license, rotary rating at that. But the venerable old auto-gyro might be the way to have a practical (mechanical, safety and price) flying car.

  • http://twitter.com/fixgadget GadgetFix

    The concept of flying cars should be re-envisioned. Cars as they currently exist do not seem as if they are suited for the task. Engineers would need to make existing vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient possibly even all-electric; or gasoline/generator to electric and make them very efficient. I foresee someone making a flying car out of something like a Smart car, or similar and even then it would be more like a helicopter car? 

    A few years ago there was a young nigerian Mubarak Muhammad Abduhalli who made a homemade helicopter out of some car parts. I believe he used a motor pulled out of a Honda Civic to power it. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001605574709 Maria Yanicki

    I would never fly in anything except a plane piloted by a responsible guy/girl who knows what he or she is doing. I’m terrified enough of heights, I don’t want to be controlling that rubbish. And imagine your car stalling. In the middle of the air. Oh, joy.