Flying Cars Creeping Closer

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A team of engineers got a lot of attention when they bolted some wings onto a $100,000 Panoz Esperante sports car and got it (briefly) off the ground, for a Monster Garage episode that aired this week. But meanwhile, the real flying car may be quietly under development in the garages of a few homebuilders, in the form of road-worthy gyrocopters. Sean Cooper, of Concord, Calif., says he's gotten the OK from the state to drive his gyrocopter on the roads -- but only if he takes off the rotor first, which is (currently) about a 20-minute job. Still, Cooper told SiliconBeat.com he has driven the gyro to the airport (the rotax turns the back two wheels via a pulley device), which is just a few blocks away from his home, then flew to San Jose, took off the rotor, and drove to his office ... very slowly. A similar project has been proposed by a Dutch company (though they say theirs will go about 120 mph on land or in the air) and we saw an ultralight version at Sun 'n Fun that turned into a kind of three-wheeled motorbike on the ground.

Meanwhile, housing costs in California -- combined with generally good weather and plentiful airports -- are making airborne commutes a reasonable option for more pilots of ordinary air-only aircraft. Instead of paying huge bucks for a tiny urban home, pilots can instead buy a bigger house in a far-off suburb, pay for an airplane, and fly to work. Bill Byrne flies in a rented Cessna from his home in Davis to his Mountain View office daily, turning a three-hour commute into a 75-minute trip, door to door. "It's calming," Byrne told The San Jose MercuryNews. "People love to look out the airplane window, and I get to do it every day." He keeps a beat-up $900 Volvo at the Palo Alto airport for the ground leg of his commute. Not quite a flying car, but it works.