Saturday, October 31, 2009

Flying cars - Future is here now!

Get ready for takeoff: Flying cars are here!

Back in 1940, Henry Ford, chairman of his namesake motor company, said, “Mark my words, a combination airplane and motor is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” Mark his words, we did. And now, almost 70 years later we can say he was right. Flying cars are a reality.

Pilots and aircraft enthusiasts have been pursuing the dream of a flying car for decades. Their hard work, dedication and mountains upon mountains of cash have paid off. They’ve had to come up with the right materials, size and power. They’ve had to implement controls for driving and flying. They’ve had to consider road space, storage, fuel and foldable wings — not to mention wheel type, weight and don’t forget the legislation.
Not only have they managed to do all that but in most cases they’ve incorporated aesthetics, too. Some of these flying cars look great. OK, so nothing is actually available commercially, so don’t run to the dealership with your checkbook. But, truth be told, it doesn’t look like it will be long.
Here are seven of the best flying cars we could find:

The Transition by Terrafugia – A Street-Legal Airplane

Terrafugia was founded in 2006 to “provide innovative solutions to the challenges facing personal aviation.” It is based in Massachusetts and is a privately funded company.
Their flying car, The Transition, is probably the most likely to go into commercial production first, though there’s no way of knowing for sure, of course.
At the moment Terrafugia is taking refundable deposits of $10,000 for their “roadable planes,” as they call them. They’re expected to cost somewhere in the region of $200,000 when they go on sale. The company appears to already have orders for about 60 of these.
Unlike most of the companies promoting their flying cars is that we haven’t gotten to see them actually, well, fly. And, really, until we see them fly, it’s only a dream isn’t it? Well Terrafugia have shown us that their Transition can fly; they did this at Plattsburgh International Airport in New York earlier this year in March 2009.
The Transition is a two-seater airplane car with foldable wings so it can drive on the road without endangering other cars and also can sit snugly in your garage. It runs on regular unleaded fuel from your local filling station for both driving AND flying. It can cruise at a steady 115 mph.
OK, so The Transition is still just a proof of concept but Terrafugia does plan to make its first customer delivery as early as 2011.
The Switchblade by Samson Motorworks
OK, so the Switchblade is more flying motorcycle than car, as it is a three-wheeler. Still, that’s not the point, as it’s a two-seater vehicle capable of driving on the road and flying in the air. If nothing else, the Switchblade — with its leather interior and sporty exterior — is one cool-looking vehicle.
The Switchblade uses a “scissors” wing, which swings under the belly of the plane when not in use and is protected by a sort of clamshell — akin to a penknife flicking back into its case.
The Switchblade is 15 feet, 6 inches long, five feet, six inches wide (the seats are side-by-side) and stands five-foot-one. The wingspan is 23 feet, five inches.
It’s said to cruise at more than 90 miles per hour on land and 134 mph in the air. Fuel consumption is estimated at about 60 mpg on the road and 22 mpg while airborne. Again, regular unleaded fuel from your neighborhood station is all you need.
Things have been moving quite rapidly in recent months for Samson Motorworks. The company has passed several of its “engineering milestones.” When they showed up at AirVenture last month in Wisconsin, the company had thousands of visitors, one of whom took out his checkbook and offered a deposit.
As a result of that, Samson Motorworks has since announced it is officially taking deposits for the Switchblade for those who want to secure an early delivery when it becomes available. The “target” price is $60,000, but that’s without engine or avionics. By the looks of things the Switchblade, could be hitting our air and road space sooner rather than later.
On Aug. 28, Switchblade creator and Samson President Sam Bousfield said in a press release, “we anticipate returning to AirVenture in 2010 next year with our first working prototype. That’ll be when the world of general aviation changes forever.”
Exepected to be available even sooner is a radio-controlled model that will be an exact replica at a quarter the scale. It’s expected to out soon.

The X-Hawk by Urban Aeronautics Ltd. (UrbanAero)

UrbanAero is an Israeli company founded by Rafi Yoeli with a mission to “create, manufacture and market a family of VTOL, multi-mission aircraft capable of operating safely in complex urban and natural environments.”
Their creation, the X-Hawk flying car, outshines the standard “Vertical Take-Off and Landing” (VTOL) aircraft because it can take off and land like a helicopter but has no visible rotor blades.
How does it do that?
The X-Hawk has contained rotors and is therefore safer and quieter than standard helicopters. It can even “sustain a stable hover while in direct contact with a wall or the side of a mountain,” which of course means that it can be used anywhere, whether in the center of a city or remote rugged terrain.
Just think, medics could get to an accident scene in the middle of traffic, land safely in a crowd or conduct a rescue mission on a mountain side or a tower block. This takes the concept of flying cars into a whole new level.
The X-Hawk is said to be able to fly at speeds of 155 mph and reach an altitude of about 12,000 feet, with the ability to stay airborne for two hours. It uses “fly by wire technology” and meets all FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements.
It could be ready as early as next year but it’s going to be expensive — an estimated cost of $1.5 million to $ 3.5 million. Still, if used by rescue services or the military to save lives, then it could well be worth it.

Lucy THM by Pietro Terzi — a Personal Air Vehicle

Lucy is the brainchild of freelance designer and engineer Pietro Terzi. It is a micro-light aircraft, really, designed to give greater personal mobility.
OK, so technically it’s not a car but as it has a take off and landing run of less then 15 meters and can climb very steeply rather rapidly. It also has the ability to maintain control in flight at speeds of near zero, so it isn’t really an airplane either.
The possible applications for this type of “vehicle” are mind-blowing.
We can well imagine the military would have use for this type of vehicle, particularly in difficult terrain. So might emergency service personnel for medical emergencies, traffic control, rescue missions and police surveillance. And, of course, if you have enough money, what about purely personal travel?
It does look like a giant insect but the craft is designed to be an extension of the pilot, who is sat inside an “anthropomorphous fairing in a motorcycle-like posture.” The sensation is that you are maneuvering the controls to move yourself through the air – not the traditional way to guide an aircraft. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
Lucy was on display in March at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan. As yet, we don’t know when we’ll be able to put a down payment on Lucy but the creators have said they expect the prototype to be complete and ready for flying before the year is out.
Volante by Col. K.P. Rice
Colonel Price has been building flying cars for about 30 years.
He also spent 30 years as a Marine Corps fighter/bomber pilot, has a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in electronics from Cornell University, so he’s anything but a wannabe builder of flying cars.
Price didn’t want to opt for the VTOL variety of flying car, as he felt that would be too noisy for a neighbourhood, especially if the driver were using it to get to work in the early morning or coming home from a night shift.
The Volante uses two engines: one for driving and one for flying.
According to Colonel Price the Volante is:• A second car that can be driven from the garage as often as you like without disturbing the flight section.• A plane which you can land and drive in bad weather instead of trying to fly through it, which can be the cause of disaster for many small planes.• A convenient way to gain advantage over the limitations of scheduled aircraft for mid-length trips
Most aircraft spend most of their time on the ground, so Price’s goal was to build a plane that was useful when it wasn’t in flight. Something affordable to the masses and not just the elite few.
He says he wants a vehicle that will “enhance the lives of the vast majority of neither rich nor poor pilots as well as potential pilots, who are looking for more utility in their investment at less cost and complexity in training than a current instrument rating and aircraft entails.”
His Volante is designed with all that in mind and so is both a car and a plane, but perhaps not really a “flying car,” I suppose.
The Milner Air Car

Imagine being able to drive to the nearest airport, take off, land at a destination airport and then drive off to your final destination, without switching vehicles. This is the opportunity supposedly offered by the Milner AirCar.
Other benefits are that you can make use of existing infrastructure, don’t have to pay hangar rental fees for your plane (as it will sit comfortably in your garage), allows you to drive rather than fly in inclement weather and is cheaper, overall, than conventional air travel.
Milner Motors was founded in 2005 to “develop innovative transportation solutions.”
The Milner AirCar will be a four door road-ready flying car with a foldable wing at the rear and a canard in the front. Estimated air speed is expected to be about 200 miles per hour, for up to 1000 miles at heights of up to 25,000 feet, which should allow the pilot to fly over most bad weather systems. On the ground it will be able to travel about as fast as any standard car.
At the moment, Milner is working on the car portion of the AirCar. When that is complete, they’ll bring in a company able to build the flying prototype.
Milner expects the consumer cost to run about $450,000.


The Volantor M200 Sky Car by Moller International
Moller International was set up in 1983 as a spin off from Moller Corp. to focus on the design and development of personal VTOL. The company didn’t want to produce just an aircraft, though. They wanted something something safe, efficient, affordable and easy to drive on the road as well as fly in the air.
Moller has produced a number of different models, including the XM-2 in 1962, the XM-3 in 1966, XM-4 in 1970 and, more recently, the M150, M200 and M400.
The company’s been hampered by financial difficulties and is no longer taking refundable deposits for its cars but have just announced it is nearing completion of its fourth M200 ‘Jetson’ flying car prototype, with plans to produce about 40 perhaps as early as 2010.
Gotta admit, these vehicles look a bit like flying saucers and will operate more like a hovercraft even though Moller has specifically stated they are not hovercraft. Whatever the case, they will hover perhaps 10 feet off the ground (if they did go any higher, they would technically be classified as aircraft) and will be capable of vertical take offs and landings. Their maximum speed is likely to be about 50 miles per hour over any sort of terrain, for about an hour and a half.
One of the advantages posed by Moller’s version of a flying car is that the driver won’t need a pilot’s license to operate. The cost of owning a Volantor could be as little as $90,000 and the company’s already starting working on its orders.
Moller International maintains that cars as we know them are only an “interim step on the evolutionary path to independence from gravity” and if the Volantor’s any indication, the company may just be right.

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