Fancy Flights in your Automotive Future?
By Jim Bray
Freeway congestion may become a thing of the past if some new personal transportation
concepts manage to get off the ground.
Flying cars are an old concept, but theyre seeing new life thanks to
a handful of upward-looking companies.
The first is Moller International of Davis, California, whose M400 Skycar
appears well on the way to bringing mainstream society an honest to goodness
family flying machine like that used by George Jetson on the old cartoon show.
The Skycar volantor (from the Italian Volant, literally meaning
flying) is a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing like a helicopter
or a Harrier jet) vehicle thats about the size of a car. According to
Mollers hype, the four seat vehicle will cruise at more than 350 mph,
get a fuel economy of 15 mpg, and retail (eventually) for about $60,000.
Paul Moller has already flown a two passenger prototype so, while the future
of this vehicle is still up in the air, the idea seems infinitely more down
to earth than pie in the sky.
Puns notwithstanding, the volantor and its competitors use the directional
application of jets of air, in the Mollers case air thrust from four nacelles in
which the engines are mounted.
Moller claims the M400 will be able to climb, at up to 7800 feet per minute,
to a maximum ceiling of 30,000 feet. They also say itll have a range
of 900 miles and will carry a payload of up to 740 pounds, including its (regular
automobile) gas. Itll only require an area of about 35 feet in diameter
to take off or land, too.
For comparison, Cessnas Web site says the base model of its classic
four seat 172 Skyhawk the little airplane thats one the backbones
of personal aviation climbs at 720 feet per minute, with a ceiling of
13,500 feet and a cruising speed of about 140 mph. It also requires about a
thousand feet of runway, starts at $144,900 and, though flying isnt really
difficult, requires an expensive pilot school course and many hours of experience
before youre comfortably proficient.
The M400 will be 18 feet long, 9 wide, and 6 high which, compared to a current
Honda Accords dimensions of about 15.8 x 5.9 x 4.8, means it should fit
quite well into your driveway. Its also capable of moving short distances
on the ground, so it should be parkable.
Moller says that the volantor will be flown by computers using Global Positioning
Satellites (GPS), which will eventually make it accessible to non pilots. Until
the concept is proven, however, operators will need a private pilots
license, though this is supposedly only a temporary hurdle.
Power is provided by Wankel-type rotary engines, known for their small size,
light weight, and reliability. The power plants have only three major moving
parts and weigh less than 80 pounds each. The M400 will carry eight of these
150 horsepower motors, two per engine nacelle, running independently of each
other to help prevent the skycar from experiencing an embarrassing plummet
should one fail. The computer stabilization systems are tripled, for the same
reason, with only one required to fly the M400.
If all else fails, dual parachutes can be deployed that are designed to waft
the M400 gently to the ground.
The companys also planning six passenger and single passenger versions
of the volantor.
Moller isnt alone in telling humanity to take a flying leap, though
they do seem to be the farthest along in development and, perhaps, the most
Other companies working on the concept include Macro Industries, of Huntsville
Alabama, which is developing the 2 passenger SkyRider X2R. Then theres
the Israeli company AD&D, whose CityHawk is also a 2 seat concept. Huntington
Beach, Californias Advanced Flying Automobile is hard at work on the
SOKOL A400, a car that can supposedly convert into a plane, complete with pop
out wings, in less than a minute.
Once the technology has been worked out the problem will be managing the traffic.
After all, while the idea of airborne commuter traffic is wonderful, the last
thing the world needs is skycars raining down on homes and pedestrians as lousy
drivers take to the air.
Hopefully, sky car drivers will be required to have a little more skill than
many drivers of ground-based vehicles currently display