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Mon, Aug 08, 2005

Flight Test: StrongMobile Magic Dragon Aircar

Well, Maybe Not Quite Yet…

By Rob Finfrock

It's a dream that has been around ever since the postwar era, if not before: combining the functionality of an automobile with the "go anywhere, any time" convenience of an airplane.

There have been many attempts thus far, but all have proven to be, ah, less than successful (anyone for a flying Pinto?) Nevertheless, research programs and full development plans continue towards achieving this goal, with the Moller M400 Skycar being probably the most identifiable.

And then there is Richard Strong, a retired Air Force captain who holds a patent on multi-mode vehicles, and who has been working on the concept of a flying car since 1960. A full-size mockup of his design was located north of the main entrance to AirVenture 2005 at Oshkosh. He also presented a forum titled "Magic Dragon StrongMobile Roadable Aircar Project."

"This is the eighth model," says Strong. "We've been through a tether model for flying and checking it, a wind tunnel model for measuring, and several half-size models. This is a preview of the future." 

As visions of the future go, the current mockup looks something like a leftover prop from an episode of the 1950s serial "Flash Gordon." It looks somewhat futuristic, from a distance. Upon closer inspection, however, you realize that it is actually quite crude.

The main body panels are constructed from plywood, as are the wings; the front nosecone appears to be formed with plaster over chicken wire; and the instruments are printed on sheets of paper taped to the dashboard. The steering wheel is from an early Geo Metro, as are parts of the suspension. The mockup's blue paint scheme covers everything, including the tires.

Passersby seem equally captivated and contemptuous at the spectacle before them. For every person who stops to consider the vehicle and pick up some literature, others laugh derisively at it.

I must admit that the first time I saw the Magic Dragon, my first reaction was to look at Strong and say, "I'm trying to determine if you're serious or not."

He is. Moreover, Strong has apparently given a lot of thought to his creation. Detailed schematic drawings are available for review on his website. He has performed a test program, much as other manufacturers do. And while Strong has yet to build a flying prototype, he has done studies and determined what he believes to be realistic performance capabilities.

"I would say [the service ceiling] would be like any other airplane, like a Cherokee or a 172." Strong plans to use an engine producing approximately 200 h.p. to accomplish this, most likely a liquid-cooled automotive engine "for the low maintenance." Power would be channeled through the wheels on the road, and a three-foot ducted fan in flight. Wings would extend from the body electronically when the owner decides to go into airplane mode.

What material should be used to build the vehicle is another matter. The mockup is constructed of wood ("Wood's cheaper to modify," says Strong with a laugh) but the ultimate body shell would likely be metal.

"I get different opinions," says Strong. "Personally I'm sort of old-fashioned, I'd go with aluminum. Of course, the front would have to be some kind of composite... it's all about matching the technology with the need."

Target weight for the prototype is 2700 lbs, including full safety equipment such as passive restraints, with a "generous" passenger and baggage allowance on top of that.

Who knows if Richard Strong's dream will ever fly or not. He has displayed at Oshkosh for several years, and is a member of the EAA. He is slowly building his prototype, and is always looking for an investor to help with costs. When talking to him, it is very clear that he firmly believes in his vision.

"It will be a nice, comfortable, easy to fly, vehicle."

FMI: www.strongware.com/dragon/index.html
 

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