Must fly, here’s my car…

Every year, around this time, someone somewhere says: “Another year gone and still no flying cars.” This time it was a comic strip in Sunday’s Washington Post. After all this time, it seems having an aeroplane in every garage is still a yardstick of technological progress. And it remains an unfulfilled dream. There have been many attempts over the years, but the results have not been good aeroplanes or good automobiles. There’s quite a good recap of past efforts on howstuffworks. But take anything you read on current flying-car projects with a healthy pinch of salt.

The outfit getting most of the ink these days is Terrafugia. It go a writeup as recently as October in the MIT Technology Review. But then the company was formed by a bunch of ex-MIT folks. So far Terrafugia has raised some money, flown a radio-controlled scale model and made some cool graphics (check out the video). It says it will fly a proof-of concept vehicle in 2008.


Terrafugia’s Transition is basically a roadable aeroplane, rather than a flyable automobile, but what it promises to be that previous designs were not is a successful “transformer” – able to switch between aero- and auto- mode without the need to attach or detach things. Terrafugia also aims to get the Transition approved as a light sport aircraft, making learning to fly easier for mere drivers.

But the Transition is still an aircraft. Pilots might buy one for the fun of driving home from the airport without changing vehicles, but it is not going to put an aeroplane in every garage. More technological progress than a neat folding wing is needed for that to happen. And it may come from the unmanned aircraft sector. The technology that will allow UAVs to mix safely with manned aircraft in civilian airspace could allow auto/aeroplanes to take off from streets and land in office carparks. In fact, I might feel safer in an automated air taxi than in one with a pilot!

One Response to Must fly, here’s my car…

  1. Richard A. Strong 22 December, 2008 at 5:28 pm #

    The problem is that there are hundreds of cities that are hundreds of miles apart, as crows fly,
    and even further by fuel-wasting stop-and-go zig-zaggy road routes.
    Many travellers and cargo movers need to go between and within them on a daily basis,
    BUT the highway system is forecast to be even more congested and speed-limitted in the future.
    There are thousands of nearly-empty small airports that can be used by fast airplanes in nearly-empty skies;
    however, most airports are located out of towns, so travellers require some form of
    ground transportation, such as rental cars, to get to and from their desired destinations in towns and suburbs.
    Private and business airplane owners and renters still waste precious time changing from car to plane and back again,
    such as parking, transferring baggage, renting cars, and readying and securing their airplanes.
    Airline travellers must deal with even more problems of scheduling, ticketing,
    reservations, routing, seatmates, lost baggage, and security queues.
    An optimum solution may be the use of flyable automobiles that combine the speed of airplanes
    with the convenience of automobiles, in automatically transformable vehicles – aircars.
    Over the years of discussing the project with others, general fallacies have been voiced often:
    1) cars are too heavy to fly; 2) “average” drivers are too dangerous to fly; and
    3) the sky is too small for millions of aircars.
    The truths are: 1) the Strongmobile designs are technically sound for adequate performance;
    2) licensed pilot-aviators are much better trained and qualified than poor drivers; and
    3) the skies are big enough and control is adequate for hundreds of thousands of aircars.
    Business travellers who make a dozen or so trips per month may find that avoiding their payroll
    and support costs on a time basis offsets the costs of their aircars, as compared to other ways of travel.
    You may see here a study, like “diamonds in the rough”, by retired Air Force Command Pilot-Aero Engineer Rich Strong,
    developed over a 50-year period, that combines an advanced design, a sustainable business plan, and convenient operation.
    Thousands of StrongMobile fans have viewed this study, so look for somebody to cut and polish the rough diamonds and
    make shining gems!

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