After 45 Years, Witness Another Push For The Venerable Flying
I bought a brand new Aeromobile.
Custom made, 'twas a flight de ville.
With a powerful motor and some highway wings,
Turn off the button and you will hear her sing.
Now you can't catch me. Baby, you can't catch me.
'Cause if you get too close, you know I'm gone
Like a cooool breeze.
--Chuck Berry, "You Can't Catch Me" (1956)
Critics have said pigs would fly before cars. Not long ago, at
the Flugtag Festival in Portland (OR), an aircraft (sort of) called
a flying pig merrily crashed into the Willamette River. Does that
mean it's time to resurrect the idea of cars that can fly?
Perhaps. All of a sudden, the idea of drive-fly-drive has hit
home with automotive giants like Honda and Toyota. All of a sudden,
the flying car is respectable again.
A lot of people laughed when Honda started
dabbling in aviation. The laughter subsided when Honda teamed up with GE
in a strategic alliance aimed at making a mark in the biz-jet
industry. Now, BusinessWeek reports Honda
appears quite serious about entering the air taxi business.
Robin Haynes is another player in the flying car business. His
Skyblazer would drive like a car then, at the push of a button,
sprout wings and fly. "It's like the ultimate engineering challenge
to me," Haynes told BusinessWeek. "And I'd love to have one."
Haynes is in talks with the man who founded legendary Silicon
Valley venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Tim Draper is
asking for proposals from companies that might one day build flying
To be fair, you have to
consider personal air vehicles (PAVs) in the same category as
flying cars. If you do that, then say hello to Harry Falk. He's an
accountant whom BusinessWeek reports was sucked into the aviation
market by a client who was an inventor. His entry: A strap-on VTOL
device that he says will be ready for testing in 18 months.
Right now, Falk's operation, Trek Aerospace, is being funded by
the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Already, the
strap-on helo device has made its first test-flight. Called
Springtail, the device is simple to operate: the pilot's left hand
controls velocity. His right hand controls direction. With a ten
gallon diesel fuel tank, the Springtail can hit speeds of 90 mph
and can fly for more than two hours. If all goes according to plan,
BusinessWeek reports Springtail will first be used by soldiers for
urban battle transportation. Eventually, however, Falk predicts the
technology will make its way to the civilian market.
One of the most advanced projects may well be Moller
International's Skycar M400. The vehicle is still in the
development phase, but did successfully complete a tethered hover
test in October, 2002. Moller is now taking deposits for the M400,
which has a list price of as little as $500,000. It's a four-place
air vehicle that Moller says can reach speeds of 350 mph at a
cruising altitude of 25,000 feet. Moller says the M400 will be
certified by the end of 2006.
Okay, there IS the safety angle to consider. But that's where
NASA hopes to step in, proclaiming that one day, personal aviation
will be as safe as riding a horse. Andrew Hahn, a NASA researcher
based in Hampton Roads (VA), told BusinessWeek, "We're trying to
make an airplane like a horse. A horse doesn't want to be driven
off a cliff. And if you're drunk and fall asleep, it's going to
take you back to the barn."
GAMA, are you seeing this?