Is the Flying Car Our Moonshot?

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At Sun 'n Fun, just a couple of weeks ago, one of the most interesting news conferences I went to was hosted by Harrison Schmitt, who walked on the Moon during the last Apollo mission, with Gene Cernan. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the strangeness of the bright Moon landscape against the pitch-black sky, and the view of a big blue Earth hanging above the mountains where the pale Moon should be. It's amazing to imagine the crew looking down on the Moon's cratered surface from their tiny spacecraft, with its even tinier computer brain that probably could be outsmarted by the processing power in your phone.

Like most space veterans, Schmitt argued that we need to go back to the Moon. His view is that we can find valuable minerals there that would make the trip worthwhile, and humans should go instead of robots because we are better at exploring. Others have argued that we need to go back if only to inspire another generation of astronauts and engineers, and encourage kids to study math. But most pragmatists agree that the only reason we went in the first place was to beat the Russians, and without a similar threat barking at our heels, we're not likely to commit to such a daunting effort.

So what other goal could galvanize our youth, inspire our technologists, and convince the world that Americans are the smartest, bravest, most capable people on the planet? Maybe we could get serious about perfecting that recurring symbol of the ever-out-of-reach future, the always-popular flying car.

It was weird last week to see the mainstream media pick up the flying-car story, which we've been following in detail for years, as if it just sprang into being. Carl Dietrich, the CEO of Terrafugia, who we've interviewed a zillion times, turned up as a fresh new face on the TV newscasts, as his Transition design debuted at a major car show in New York. It's clear that the masses of people retain their fascination with the prospect of a flying car.

But it won't take long for that fascination to wear off, once the masses realize that while the Transition may be the first of its kind, it's not the kind of flying car most folks imagine. You can park it in your garage, but you still need to drive to the airport. You still need pilot training, and flight planning, and pre-flight checks, and mandated maintenance. What fun is that?

But a true flying car, one that would take you where you want to go on command, take off and land just about anywhere, and would be safe and simple to operate, seems to me possibly just within reach. Not easy, and it's not clear how we would get there from here, but maybe it's plausible, in the way that going to the Moon must have seemed difficult yet do-able in the 1950s.

The advantage of replacing the Moon-shot goal with a flying-car goal is that flying cars overflow with clear and real usefulness and purpose. We don't have to depend on inspiring speeches about the human imperative to explore. We can cite lots of ways fleets of autonomous flying cars would not only make everyone's life simpler and safer and more fun, but would likely end up being more economical and more environmentally friendly than the massively inefficient, dangerous, and costly transportation systems we have now. And if we don't do it first, the clever Chinese might just beat us to it. What more reason do we need?

Comments (108)

The notion of a flying car is very attractive, but the reality is anything but. While we all would like to fly around like the "Jetsons" the down to Earth truth is that cars and aircraft just don't have very much in common. Terrafugia has done an incredible job of mixing the two technologies into a craft that actually flies, but I doubt it will actually sell.

The problem: It is just too expensive.

Pilots who want a flying car tend to be looking for a way to cut the cost of personal transportation on cross country trips. They see the price of a rental car as prohibitive and would prefer their airplane to serve as ground transportation too. Of course they want this extra functionality for free. The lovely Terrafugia design shows this can be accomplished, but the quarter million dollar price tag for a vehicle that barely flies and doesn't really work so well on the roads will take many lifetimes to make up the cost of rental cars.

Ground pounders want a car that can fly so they can jump over traffic jams and rivers where there are no convenient bridges. There might be enough of them to pay for very expensive vehicles (some of them drive extremely expensive cars). However, they don't want to spend the personal time and incredible expense to learn to be a proper pilot.

Maybe some day the PAV on the dream boards from NASA will exist. Personally, I think those expecting to see it in their life times are smoking funny stuff in their pipes.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | April 12, 2012 5:34 AM    Report this comment

Paul, good to hear from you again; I tend to agree with your thoughts on this subject. However.....

Mary, an interesting concept to consider. Even if the technology might not be here yet for a flying car (or driving airplane I think of the insspiration it could offer many (young) people - especially if some group or non-profit offered a challenge and (cash) award to pursue and accomplish this challenge.

Posted by: Richard Norris | April 12, 2012 5:44 AM    Report this comment

Forget flying cars, space exploration, all of that. Put NASA 100% on alternative energy. Then when we are free of being involved in the global mess over energy we can return to the fun stuff.

Posted by: Larry Rice | April 12, 2012 5:51 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Paul concerning the cost. Equally important: who would risk taking their $279K car out onto the roadways knowing that a simple fender bender could destroy a flying surface and render their vehicle un-airworthy?

Posted by: Richard Kiray | April 12, 2012 6:43 AM    Report this comment

"So what other goal could galvanize our youth, inspire our technologists, and convince the world that Americans are the smartest, bravest, most capable people on the planet?"

I'm all for galvanizing and inspiring, but I have no desire to participate in chest-pounding patriotism. Going to the moon may have been "to beat the Russians", but it was also a galvanizing and inspiring challenge "for mankind", as Mr. Armstrong said. Isn't it about time we realize we're all in the same boat, or on the same desert island? I think Larry's right, NASA should be turned loose on THIS world's challenges.

As for the flying car, do we really want one in every garage? Think about what we experience driving our cars. Now imagine the same in the air! I think a really practical flying, roadable vehicle would be a more practical private airplane, rather than a better car. But we still have to have access to airspace, and somewhere to land legally. An appealing concept, and one that I believe can be achieved, but by no means the answer to everyone's needs.

Posted by: Bob Sikkel | April 12, 2012 6:45 AM    Report this comment

...and what about the taxachusetts sales tax issue on $279K!

Posted by: Rae Willis | April 12, 2012 6:54 AM    Report this comment

Bob, Rather than galvanizing our youth I think we should fix the rotten government schools that generally fail to teach a lot of our kids to read and do basic arithmetic. America will never climb out of the gutter until our literacy rates get back up to the level they were when we put a man on the moon.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | April 12, 2012 7:03 AM    Report this comment

(1) The flying car is one of many ancillary dreams in the bigger dream of more and better general aviation. But the dream doesn't get past the price tag: we can't build a Cessna 172 for under a quarter million bucks, or whatever it is they charge these days, so general aviation limps along with old planes. Greater minds than mine have failed to fix this. (2) Others have posted very insightful comments on the limitations of the flying car. To those I say, with sadness in my voice, "ditto." (3) I have an old issue of Popular Mechanics, from about 1940, which shows the highway of the future. Every few miles, there would be a landing strip next to the highway, for the benefit of flying cars, or car/airplane multimodal trips. Done that way, it only takes a few acres of land for the runway. Well.... what a difference 70 years makes: we've built up the country without this infrastructure. And because we did so, we've made all forms of aviation less useful. (4) Paul, I speak as a 12-year school board member. The U.S. really has two sets of public schools, one for wealthier communities and one for more distressed communities. The wealthier schools get reasonably good results. Many of the schools in distresssed communities do not, and they drive down the national averages. I think the national debate on why that is, is completely dysfunctional -- but it's also waaaay off topic for flying cars.

Posted by: John Schubert | April 12, 2012 7:19 AM    Report this comment

John, let me continue the school issue for one more message.

When we were working on the moon shot the public schools had "Tracks". That means students were divided by expectations for their future based on their ability. Top track students were expected to go to college. Bottom track ones were expected to go to work in the trades or factories. Middle track ones were hard to predict so they got preparation suitable for both outcomes. All of them learned to read and do arithmetic.

In the 1980s all the schools changed paradigms from academic excellence and classes organized for maximum teaching/learning effectiveness to a system based on making students feel good about themselves. Now we have classes intentionally composed of kids with "Diversity" of ability from very bright to mentally handicapped. Each class gets two teachers and neither of them can be effective because of the student composition. They say "If only we had smaller classes and more teachers we could teach the kids to read." What nonsense!

I too would like to see aviation improve in popularity. We now see LSA designs selling for less than half as much as TC'd ones. The current effort to redo part 23 might lead to similar results for more effective aircraft. This is all good. There are similar gains in the works for the oppressive medical certificate systems. This amounts to removing government regulations behind the demise of general aviation. It just might work.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | April 12, 2012 7:42 AM    Report this comment

Bob, I like your idea of challenging nations to work together, instead of using their rivalry as a competitive incentive. That would be great!

As for a flying car in every garage, I think an essential way to make this work is that the vehicles would be shared -- so when you need one, you schedule it via your smartphone, and when you're not using it, somebody else can. I think this makes much more sense than everyone owning their own expensive machine that they use for only an hour or two per day.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 12, 2012 7:48 AM    Report this comment

Flying car is a non-starter. Enough idiots who can't drive, far less fly. Next.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | April 12, 2012 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I have never, ever understood the interest in flying cars. Having worked on the design of both, one can hardly imagine more diametrically-opposed requirements, and that's not even considering the mountains of regulations affecting both. Just one look at goofballs texting while driving would prevent any sane person from operating a relatively fragile, very expensive, low highway-crashworthy flying machine on public roads. But, you know, there is a sucker born every day and the current crop of roadable car developers have found a few to fund them. Stop expecting governments to 'galvanize' the youth and look at the root of the problem - poor government schools, decay of traditional families and values and crushing taxation/regulation that removes the prime motivator for nearly all past aerospace advances - free markets and the profit motive.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | April 12, 2012 8:25 AM    Report this comment

The leading edge of aerospace technology has pushed the bounds of imagination, but the trailing edge is still out of reach for the general public.

If we're going to have one 'movement' in aviation to 'galvanize youth' or some such thing, I think it should center around creating an airborne 'Model A'. Produced in large quantities, it would finally get costs down to a reasonable level.

Posted by: Tim Busch | April 12, 2012 8:37 AM    Report this comment

Been two years, this month, since I last flew, a J-3. Can't even afford that now. And the youth of today can afford even less than I. All the preceding posts are accurate, but we need to somehow combine ALL of them, into one all-encompassing solution, to solve this problem for G.A. Arguing accomplishes notion, but reasonable discussion can get wonders done.

Posted by: Doyle Frost | April 12, 2012 9:32 AM    Report this comment

Doyle, stay tuned. A solution is in the works by a dynamic team doing exactly what you propose.

Posted by: Tim Busch | April 12, 2012 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Again this folly bubbles to the surface! The "flying car" syndrome is marked by the insatiable urge to flog horses so long dead that they are merely skeletal. At best any airplane, the best airplane is a group of compromises, size, speed, carrying capacity, safety and so on. To add "road ability" to this mess has by the passage of time and the parade of ridiculous little vehicles, been proven not feasible. Sure enough someone will always come up with something and sure enough it will get some press coverage and then it passes into the obscurity which it so richly deserves. Our country needs to support the building a good, safe economical regional carrier (pure jet or turbo prop) and stop surrendering that entire market to the Canadians, Brazilians and French. There is something for NASA to tackle. Or get NASA involved in the development of a safe, inexpensive 4 place GA type of machine that Cessna might want to produce in Wichita, in stead of China.

Posted by: Billy Laatsch | April 12, 2012 10:38 AM    Report this comment

I would love to have a "Blade Runner" style flying car but I think I would shoot myself if everyone else did. Can you imagine LA style freeways in the air? As far as moon shots climate change should be the new cold war. Unfortunately instead of seeing an opportunity for invention and progress enough of humanity seems to want to ignore reality or worse yet actively deny it and act like it can be made to go away with clever PR.

Posted by: robert miller | April 12, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment

We are the last pilots. All future aircraft will fly autonomously. Hardly anybody is learning to fly these days, and we are getting really good at drones and at robots in general. The greying of the pilot population meets Moore's Law. There won't be anybody left competent enoug

Posted by: Jack Romanski | April 12, 2012 11:11 AM    Report this comment

I suspect that any flying car design that involves wings or air acceleration is doomed; the problems are well understood. It is also unlikely that we need a NASA type organization to make the next leap; probably just a few physicists that want to understand the fundamental workings of gravity. When the flying cars work by controlling gravitation forces rather than air acceleration reaction, it will become practical and will be available on a Ford showroom in your hometown.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | April 12, 2012 11:49 AM    Report this comment

Let the Chinese win this one if that's what they want. All progress is not necessarily good progress.

With due respect, I find this idea non-workable on every level. The issues of who will fly these things, infastructure changes for landing and takeoff areas, wires, towers, lights at night, MOA's, etc., aircraft maintainance, weight and balance for the cross-country to and from Grandma's house, let alone insurance and litigation issues, among countless others.

If we are really seeking an aviation related replacement for the moonshot the only viable one I can see might be ultralights - one or two person (as in over 90% of light aircraft now) for the short, go to Costco or such, (but how-to-get-home due to heavy purchases!?) for the short, city-type flying, and keep airport to airport flying for the longer trips. Still, I don't want to hear or see countless ultralights buzzing over my now quiet, peaceful backyard at anytime, so even that idea is probably dead on arrival.

And what about fuels? Or are we going to electric sooner than later? Charging stations everywhere? Egad. Let's apply the spirit of the other blog on convergence and keep these two transports separate, please.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 12, 2012 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Great try Mary the truth of the matter is the problems we are experiencing today will still be with us with the flying car concept – parking. And if everyone had a flying car then the traffic jam will simply transfer to the skies. Its a favourite daydream of mine to have and fly a car so that I could fulfil the ideas put forward by Paul (to jump over traffic and rivers – to get ahead of others) what more?

These days I work from home and go out to an airfield to do a bit of flying when the weather is ok. My trip to the airfield is marred by lots of traffic and it is this that take the time and usually leaving me frustrated and upset so to have a flying car that need to go to an airfield (avoiding any accidents) to take off from is no different to what I do now.

There is a flying car from Germany a Gyro-copter that can be drive like a motorcycle. The problem is the same needs somewhere to take off.

Mini helicopters of the one man type may just do the trick needs to be small and compact so that you could take it into your office and store it in the corner while at work.

My thoughts

Posted by: Bruce Savage | April 12, 2012 12:24 PM    Report this comment

Nothing like a big prize to motivate creative thinkers and encourage "outside the box" thinking.

How about lobbying the X Prize Foundation...seemed to work out for Lindbergh and the folks behind SpaceShipOne, not to mention all those who have and/or will benefit from their achievements.

Posted by: Julian O'Dea | April 12, 2012 12:39 PM    Report this comment

Bruce, I think the idea would be to address some of those problems, not transfer them from the roads to the skies. If small autonomous aircraft could take off vertically, or nearly so, there could be an "airport" in every neighborhood. If people could schedule the aircraft to pick them up when needed, more like a taxi, then they wouldnt have to take up space parking. I'm sure there are lots of reasons this wouldn't work if we try to do it tomorrow, but if we try to do it 50 years from now..? think of the technologies we have today that would have seemed crazy 50 years ago.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 12, 2012 12:43 PM    Report this comment

"a true flying car, one that would take you where you want to go on command, take off and land just about anywhere, and would be safe and simple to operate, seems to me" to be a wonderful concept, much like nuclear fusion reactors. Of the two, I think nuclear fusion reactors would be far more exciting a goal to "galvanize our youth, inspire our technologists, and convince the world that Americans are the smartest, bravest, most capable people on the planet". And far more easy to accomplish.

Posted by: Charles Clark | April 12, 2012 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Mary, the "moon shot" is a perfect metaphor for flying cars. It would be insanely expensive, only benefit the tiniest portion of the population, and the luster would wear off in short order. There is a REASON why flying cars and lunar landers never numbered beyond a handful. The reason is that REALITY always trumps "inspiration".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 12, 2012 2:19 PM    Report this comment

One hope for "flying cars" is that, unlike modern automobiles, there aren't any existing, so getting automation into them is easy. Diamond is already talking about autoland/autotakeoff with the DA42NG. We're building UAV's for all occasions now. The concept of having to be a pilot seems to be evaporating.

IMO a "flying car" is NOT a "roadable airplane". However crazy the guy is, Moller's vision is closer to where to start. The comment about controlled gravitation is pretty close to what will be required, though I would think that a DARPA project to make something like the Moller skycar is within the realm of possibility.

Posted by: JT McDuffie | April 12, 2012 2:42 PM    Report this comment

@Bruce Savage: try Until someone comes along with a totally new propulsion mechanism, the best that a "flying car" could be is a small, expensive toy. Think of a flying jet ski.

Posted by: Jonathan Harger | April 12, 2012 2:49 PM    Report this comment

...and my link was automatically deleted. It is "hover dash bike dot com."

Posted by: Jonathan Harger | April 12, 2012 2:51 PM    Report this comment


The “flying car” concept is just one embodiment of a “Holy Grail” objective: personal transportation that is unconstrained by the infrastructure of paved roadways – just as automobiles are unconstrained by the infrastructure of railroad tracks. One of the reasons that “The Jetsons” is humorous, is its portrayal of aerial vehicles that make no use of one of their advantages – point-to-point travel. Instead, we laugh at the “traffic jams” that ensue when the vehicles eschew random navigation, and instead clump together in an aerial version of the gridlock that is anathema to the ground-bound. If you’re producing cartoons, the juxtaposition is funny. It also is ignorant of or simply ignores contemporary reality. The enabling piece that has been missing until now is the existence of truly autonomous aerial vehicles. They will be the means of achieving the actual objective stated in my first sentence.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 13, 2012 7:56 AM    Report this comment


Making them roadable would not be helpful, in my opinion, so you’ll still need a rental car at the far end of your journey, just as you always do with the airlines. But a personal aerial vehicle that is available for use by non-pilots? That would free you from three major constraints: choice of destinations, schedule, and the risk inherent in reliance upon the statistically least-safe feature of every aircraft – its pilot. In 1975, the idea that ordinary persons who lacked college-level training and vast fortunes ever would even want to own their own computer was considered to be preposterous. Imagine what would happen to the cost of a personal aircraft if the industry produced 14 million of them each year. Not convinced? Okay – imagine what would happen to the cost of a typical car if the industry produced only 2,000 of them each year.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 13, 2012 7:57 AM    Report this comment

@Thomas, EXACTLY! Your perspective on industry numbers is spot on and the single biggest problem and solution to the aviation industry.

Posted by: Tim Busch | April 13, 2012 8:56 AM    Report this comment

The problem of training and/or flying skill can be overcome with automation, so I can’t see that as a no-go obstacle in mass-use flight vehicles.

On the other hand, Kent Misegades & Billy Laatsch, among others, point out the one inescapable problem in the flying car notion. Any attempt to design & build a single machine that is both a good car and a good airplane is simply an exercise in futility.

Even if you ignore the incompatible design requirement conundrum, you hit against the fact that any craft intended for mass individual use must be VTOL/STOL (unless you want to devote half of all urban land to airports!) To fly, such vehicles require the expenditure of large quantities of energy, a commodity already in short supply.

While it has certainly been shown flying cars are possible in a technical sense, they will, like flying to the moon, be forever out of reach of the man in the street

Posted by: John Wilson | April 13, 2012 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Some have outlined the impracticality and insane costs with this idea, but I cannot grasp the Why of this concept.

I'm doing most of my work from home nowadays other than seeing clients for initial interviews. Even that will change. Tho over 60 I still ride my bicycle for short trips, have many things I use delivered from online vendors, Skype and text my mom and sister often enough for peace of mind to allow less frequent visits, and generally enjoy More freedom from less movement than I ever have. We are developing ever increasing ways for efficiency in production, career-work, and lifestyle that can allow greater freedom and peace of mind if we are attuned to it. We can learn to do more with less and simplify our lives for greater purport, and that enables me to savor the richness of individual experiences even more - like pilotage in a flying machine cross-country, or eating my own home-grown vegetables. Why those who have earned and love the freedom of flight would want to see automomous airborne vehicles filling the sky with Everyman stops me cold. This doesn't promote the richness of aviation, it changes it to a socialized transportation system that will infringe and restrict the independence of what we have left of individual flying.

Technology is helping to allow us to do more without costly, time-consuming, external, physical movement in our lives. I'm going that direction and will savor the open sky for when I really do want to move.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 13, 2012 2:08 PM    Report this comment

"@Thomas, EXACTLY! Your perspective on industry numbers is spot on and the single biggest problem and solution to the aviation industry."

Actually, it's the limited number of PILOTS drives the airplane industry. That means that the normal business cycle is one of boom and bust. Any boom quickly saturates the market. When it comes down to it, most people just don't want to fly as pilot in command. Since the number of BUYERS is so tiny then there is inevitable doom for all such "flying cars" because people in reality are not wanting to do the pilot part.

Driving, on the other hand, is a completely different market and economy. People don't mind driving cars and even accept 30-40,000 deaths a year from accidents. That mindset is not true in Aviation.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 13, 2012 2:47 PM    Report this comment


My point was that if we remove the requirement to become a pilot, just in order to operate an aircraft, the market will more-closely resemble the huge automotive market - with literally millions of would-be operators. And autonomous aircraft will vastly improve the safety record of light GA aircraft.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 13, 2012 4:42 PM    Report this comment

Not only can a multi-mode vehicle be built, it will be built in the very near future. The resources are available now, a decade ago or so they were not. Light weight engines with high horsepower (Motus, Hayabusa,) very strong light-weight materials (carbon fiber, nano metals) are available, and one of the most important advances, computer software. As I see it, the problem of producing a multi-mode vehicle is securing the funding. Will everyone have a vehicle that can drive and fly? No. Will those that do create a problem in the skies, I doubt it. On the ground you are driving a car, Ford, Chevy , multi-mode vehicle etc. under existing motor vehicle laws. In the air you are flying under existing FAA rules just as any other pilot. How great it will be to drive out of your garage to local airport, takeoff and fly to an airport near your destination and drive the rest of the way. No, I’m not dreaming, it will be reality.

Posted by: Don Campbell | April 13, 2012 5:58 PM    Report this comment


Not that I ever would want to deny anyone their flying car / road-able aircraft, but the thought of shopping-cart damage to a control surface gives me pause. And how much do you suppose it would cost to buy automobile insurance for a delicate, hard-to-spot-in-traffic, $300k vehicle? In most locations, an FC/RV never could serve as a lone everyday vehicle – it would have to be a second or third car. All of this, just to avoid a rental car or a cab at the other end of each flight? Between the cost of the additional everyday car at home, and the enormous increase in the cost of insuring the FC/RV, you could buy a lifetime supply of rental-car contracts. And live free of fear of shopping carts!

That said, if an FC/RV is your heart’s desire, I sincerely hope that the marketplace will provide opportunities for you to obtain one.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 14, 2012 8:36 AM    Report this comment

Thomas: I think the idea of a multi-mode vehicle in the mind of most people is that everyone would own one. That really isn’t the case. Just as everyone doesn’t own a Ferrari or Porsche, not everyone would want to or be able to own a multi-mode vehicle. The idea that damage would occur is not necessarily true. Having owned a Porsche Boxster I never had a scratch on it, I just didn’t park in a area that would put me in that situation. Insurance cost? Based on a $300,000 price tag it would be expensive, but based on a price below $100,000 it would be much less. Insurance for my airplane was less than one thousand a year, affordable I think for those that would choose to own a vehicle that would fly and drive. Check out the Switchblade project at, this vehicle certainly won’t be hard to spot in traffic, in fact I think it might just create a traffic jam due to people wanting to get a better look!

Posted by: Don Campbell | April 14, 2012 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Hey, Don!

In order to get the retail price of ANY new aircraft down to $100k, the manufacturing volumes would have to exceed 10,000 units per year - per model! For a road-able vehicle, the volumes would need to be even greater, because any multi-use vehicle will cost more than a same-class single-use one. No disrespect meant to my neighbors at Terafugia, but their vehicle is not fit to do battle successfully on our nation's highways. It makes a Smart car look like a Sherman tank.

Aircraft hull insurance - especially the not-in-motion portion - is inexpensive in part because of the rarity of exposure-to-loss. With a road-able vehicle, that condition is subject to radical alteration. Premiums would be larger than those that prevail in the super-car category - and would increase further due to the added exposure of airborne risks.

Fender-benders (aileron benders?) would be unrepairable at your local auto-body shop. Insurance carriers would take a very dim view of that. Flight-only vehicles are subject to collisions – with the ground. Road-able ones would add to that the not inconsiderable risk of collision with other vehicles – heavy ones made of steel that would offer impact vectors in great variety (flight-profile impact vectors are conveniently limited).

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 14, 2012 10:26 AM    Report this comment

"My point was that if we remove the requirement to become a pilot, just in order to operate an aircraft, the market will more-closely resemble the huge automotive market"

Which is why I said it's a bad point. Most people just don't want to leave the ground in small planes. Most people also don't want small driver-less anythings in traffic. The more you look into it the more you see that there is no market to support tiny planes with full automation in (and over) neighborhoods.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 14, 2012 1:15 PM    Report this comment

I've never heard a mention of meeting the DOT crash-worthyness requirements for a motor vehicle, nor the EPA emmisions requirements.

Anyone know?

Posted by: Edd Weninger | April 14, 2012 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Well said, Mark. And probably understated.

'..flying cars overflow with clear and real usefulness and purpose...We can cite lots of ways fleets of autonomous flying cars would not only make everyone's life simpler and safer and more fun, but would likely end up being more economical and more environmentally friendly..'

Ok, I give up. What are they, and at what cost? Honestly, with airport noise ordinances, airports closing or in disrepair, among a host of other things, I can't think of a better idea to eliminate GA as we know it than to stuff the general population into autonomous airborne rental vehicles landing at 'rental' airpads where they can abuse, vomit in and trash these machines with crude indifference.

Read in the paper today about a national trend by America's youth to put off getting their driver's license at 16 indefinitely. They're 'inspired' by being environmentally conscious, frugal, knowing the importance of face time with friends and the public, and wanting to be better time managers by using technology to maximize living in the moment. They'll be just fine, in my view, and seem unconcerned about flying about running here and there in airborne rental machines.

'All is Well' - Bubba Ho-Tep

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 14, 2012 3:24 PM    Report this comment

I'm confused...didn't someone named Molt Taylor think of this about 65 years ago? This was before lightweight composites, CADCAM, CNC machining and personal computers. His design flew fairly well, drove decently and the only person, that I know of that actually bought one, was Bob Cummings, to use as a prop in his TV show. If I had $279K to spend, I think that I would buy a Porche and an ercoupe and have change left over! That change could pay for parking at the airport for a long time.

Posted by: Steve Tobias | April 14, 2012 3:33 PM    Report this comment


Here's an article about the Terafugia Transition and its exemption from certain standards. The FAA also has granted them an increase in the allowable gross weight, to account for equipment that is designed to meet automotive regulations. terrafugia dot com / newsreleases dot html # NHTSA2011

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 14, 2012 7:25 PM    Report this comment


Those small autonomous aircraft will have a vastly better safety record that those other small piloted aircraft. People aren't averse to flying in planes smaller than airliners. They typically can't afford to, and they have no interest in becoming a pilot, just to have access to them. Take away the requirement to become a pilot, and offer on-demand, TSA-free travel to thousands of locations, and you'll be stunned how many people will want to participate in GA. As with the previously non-existent personal computer industry, demand and volume will drive down prices, which will support additional demand, etc.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 14, 2012 8:56 PM    Report this comment

@Mark, please supply data that says "most people don't want to fly small airplanes". I don't believe it. Every data point I have, have found, or derived says 2 or 3 orders of magnitude more people would fly if the major barriers (1: cost) were removed.

Posted by: Tim Busch | April 15, 2012 10:28 AM    Report this comment

A plane is always designed for the lightest possible structure in an operating environment that is both less punishing and more operator-controllable than that of a car. But that engineering fact aside, the concept of a flying car is a holdover from the days of apparently limitless fossil fuels and suburbia, with its emphasis on complete personal mobility above all else. The potential operators of a flying car will live in a world of high-density cities and greatly restricted personal vehicle use; density and public transportation, with limited point-to-point vehicle hire for specific needs, is the way that 9 billion of us will have to live to most efficiently use our expensive energy resources. In this world, a flying car, just like a light plane, will have precisely zero utility. I find the notion of the flying car as a "moon-shot" sadly romantic and misguided. The companies I have the greatest respect for, and who I think have the greatest chance of survival, are those who understand that maximal efficiency for optimal purpose is the key to new vehicle design. Companies like Pipistrel, for example. It's amazing how we so hate model transfer. We're so enamored of the pleasure dome that we've turned our cars into that we just can't turn it loose. In the process, we kill the GA industry by trying to ride marginal horses to a finish line that lie in a totally different direction. Sigh.

Posted by: Shaun Simpkins | April 15, 2012 4:37 PM    Report this comment

Tim, you turned a fabulous phrase with the leading/trailing edge analogy to technology, but even if the approx. 240K not-for-hire pilots today become 24 million according to your data, that's still only about 8% of the population- ie. Most do not want to fly small airplanes. I have files of data too, mostly from personality and genetic studies, and for me to believe that 24 million or more people would be flying today if they could just budget their money and lifestyle better (because THOSE are the real issues, not the cost of flying) stretches my puny brain to reaching its own moonlanding.

I find this autonomous aircar transport idea fine in a perfect world, but Earth is more like a schoolyard today with the lower human states running the show. Reach for the stars but keep your feet firmly on the ground. Let's fix the bridges we need to drive to the airport first before we refurbish our car elevators to accomodate an aircar.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 15, 2012 4:45 PM    Report this comment

@Mark, please supply data that says "most people don't want to fly small airplanes".

The "proof" is all around. People will say that they would fly but reality is that they don't make any effort even in the best of times. Reality is that fuel is expensive, airports are closing, and flying cars will always be more expensive(and worse) than either cars or airplanes. Automation? That takes away the last piece of why people aspire to the left seat in the first place and is a shot at the folks who have kept GA going up to this point.

The "proof" is that flying cars have never worked in the really lax regulations of the 50's and that with more EPA/Noise restrictions (and lawyers) that the reasonable bet is that they never will.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 15, 2012 9:58 PM    Report this comment

My theory is that whenever we dare to do something different, some benevolent cosmic being sends a whole bunch of people to tell us what a dumb idea it is. These people actually perform a valuable service. They come to test our level of commitment. If you notice, the more tentative you feel, the more pessimistic they sound. If they succeed in discouraging you, be grateful. You didn't have the moxie to make it in the first place. This is good information to have. It means you need to go back and tune up your intention or let go of what's holding you back. On the other hand, if you're determined to succeed in spite of these killjoys, then you most certainly will. - Barbara Stanny

Posted by: Tim Busch | April 15, 2012 10:20 PM    Report this comment

Supermarkets take nothing away from hunters or fishermen. Autonomous aircraft will take nothing away from persons who wish to pilot their own vehicles.

Some people merely want to feed their families. Others simply want uncomplicated transportation. We should not compel the former to hunt, any more than we should compel the latter to become pilots.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 15, 2012 11:18 PM    Report this comment

'My theory is that whenever we dare to do something different, some benevolent cosmic being sends a whole bunch of people to tell us what a dumb idea it is.'

No, not dumb, just to look at every possible aspect of the idea and all of its implications, without emotion or bias. That's more my kind of benevolent cosmic being. Never really took to using put downs as a teaching method for learning the difference between tilting at windmills and inspired ideas.

Mr. Yarsley I agree, we shouldn't do any compelling to anybody, but I think an abundance of readily available food and game is not a good analogy to limited energy resources, dwindling airports and unknown revenues to accomplish such a huge national project as autonomous airborne personal transport, or what I call, 'I used to love airplane noise but now I'm a Nimby!' And I have not seen a single word written on Why we need it. If it is to inspire our youth as suggested in the blog, as I have said I don't worry one bit about them, they're finding inspiration in their own ways.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 16, 2012 2:37 AM    Report this comment


My reference to food and game was intended to illustrate that, abundant or otherwise, modern society makes it possible to obtain food without resorting to rod, reel, or rifle. Autonomous aircraft will make it possible to access aerial personal transportation – as contrasted with airline transportation.

We can espouse "green" arguments all day long, about light rail vs. automobiles. But once outside of dense urban areas, light rail and even busses become utterly impractical. Mass transportation means exactly that. It requires a critical mass of travelers on each route to be useful – and affordable.

Maybe Facebook and Twitter will render face-to-face contacts obsolete. The society certainly seems hell-bent on raising a generation of 20-somethings whose interpersonal skills are on a par with 5-year-olds. But for dinosaurs who assert their desire to move about the countryside, a personal aircraft makes every bit as much sense as a personal computer. Autonomous aircraft will lower a significant – and I assert, unnecessary – barrier-to-entry.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 16, 2012 6:24 AM    Report this comment

"Others simply want uncomplicated transportation ..we should compel the latter to become pilots."

Driving means that cars(for the most part)stay on streets and people in houses feel safe. The noise and dangers are removed from where people actually live.

FLYING moves that noise and danger directly overhead of where people live. That's why people don't like small planes flying over their houses and why they DON'T want flying cars. They want to feel safe in their house and leave the crashes on the roadways, and not in their back yard or living room.

Flying cars use more energy, increase dangers to everyone, will always be crazy-expensive, and require inspections for both land and air worthiness.

So if you ignore costs, efficiency, increased maintenance costs, noise and safety issues, THEN you can begin to worry about the technical issues.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 16, 2012 8:59 AM    Report this comment

I envision that flying cars will be used by governmental and emergency responders and pilots who are type-certified to operate them. Until an automated and almost foolproof highway-in-the-sky system is in place, I do not anticipate that the general public will have access to these vehicles.

Of the prototypes being tested today, the Dutch PAL-V seems to be the most promising. By combining gyroplane technology with an enclosed three-wheel vehicle with tandem seating, they have come up with a provocative solution. The ground vehicle even incorporates 'Carver' technology which is an active load-centering technology that they have been perfecting over the last 13 years.

Flying cars need to become part of the transportation options for the growing urban centers of the future. In addition to safely vectoring the vehicles while in the air, they need to be able to transition to increasingly overcrowded roads. A narrow vehicle with seating for two could have the flexibility of a motorcycle with the safety structural and restraint systems of a car. These are further reasons why this concept holds promise.

The gridlock of ground transportation is a prime motivator for the development of simple, safe flying cars. We need to look to proven, relatively inexpensive, existing technologies to provide realistic options for the masses. The vehicles need to operate equally well as ground transports and aircraft, not just airplanes that may be moved about on the land.

Posted by: Marc Nadeau | April 16, 2012 9:35 AM    Report this comment


Aside from being mis-quoted (I said that we should NOT compel operators of AUAVs to become pilots), The dangers that autonomous aerial vehicles will present to the ground-bound will be LESS THAN comparable dangers from similar human-piloted vehicles. In that regard, my comments apply to single-use (aircraft-only) vehicles and to multi-use ("flying car") vehicles.

Automated will be demonstrably much safer than human-piloted.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 16, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Posted by: Ben Inglis | April 16, 2012 10:01 AM    Report this comment

"I said that we should NOT compel operators of AUAVs to become pilots...The dangers that autonomous aerial vehicles will present to the ground-bound will be LESS THAN comparable dangers from similar human-piloted vehicles."

Autonomous vehicles are a misnomer since vehicles don't know where you want to go; they still need intelligent user input. Also the world away from protected airport environments is rife with "surprises" when you approach the ground. The danger on the ground from flying stuff is multiplied for every flying car since bad maintenance and running out of gas will always be part of the human condition. Removing the human from flying does not remove the human error.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 16, 2012 10:24 AM    Report this comment

"Removing the human from flying does not remove the human error." Correct. It merely reduces it by 4 to 6 orders of magnitude.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 16, 2012 10:44 AM    Report this comment

"It merely reduces it by 4 to 6 orders of magnitude."

We're NOT removing humans at all from the system; the same bad decisions about weather, fuel, pre-flight, maintenance and landing area are still up to people. The physics of flight and gravity are also not removed from the equations.

Automation does not remove flight decisions from the pilot(or whatever you call him). Handing out aircars to people who have no clue about weight& balance is a recipe for disaster.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 16, 2012 11:24 AM    Report this comment

A flying car or roadable airplane is a dumb idea. At best you will have a severely compromised auto and a severely compromised plane. I saw the Terrafugia Transition at the NY Auto Show and asked CEO Carl Dietrich if they had the necessary DOT approvals. He said, "Yes." That's hard to believe. What problem are we trying to solve? Not having to take a taxi or rent a car at your destination? I just rented a car in NC this weekend for $22.00 a day through Priceline. The Transition will cost twice what most Light Sport Aircraft cost. You can rent a lot of cars for $150,000. The Icon A5 amphibious sport aircraft makes a lot more sense. They're not building plane for transportation, it's intended simply to be fun. Plus, it's beautiful. No one ever accused the Transition of that.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 16, 2012 12:01 PM    Report this comment

Apparently, after reading more comments, the Transition has received DOT exemptions.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 16, 2012 12:11 PM    Report this comment

Just curious Thomas, are you rated as a private pilot or beyond?

Posted by: Don Campbell | April 16, 2012 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Yes, private pilot. Co-owner of a Mooney Bravo.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 16, 2012 3:20 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Fraser:

You seem to be conflating Remotely-Piloted Vehicles with Autonomous Aerial Vehicles. In AAV's, the vehicle - not some human in a room somewhere - makes ALL pre-flight and in-flight decisions, including weather, fuel, etc. Example: select a destination that is not within the vehicle's range unter the extant circumstances, and the vehicle will reject a one-leg mission, and will propose a multi-leg one, where and if practicable.

There simply is no "him" making decisions from afar. And W&B is calculated automatically, using data from load cells on each landing gear assembly. This is all standard stuff, not science fiction.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 16, 2012 4:16 PM    Report this comment

No, I'm just saying that they will be in the same airspace at the same time. Rights of way issues need to be figured out as well as IFR operations and altitudes. It's all undefined and is not something else(like DOT and LSA standards) that can be "wavered" away.

As far as full automation, there are too many variables that deal with the view out the window. If you make it to where the whole machine won't work because of one parameter then the aerocar is basically a car all the time. The converse is also true when the data says "go" but you know the weather data is faulty. Flying takes thought. Did they ever have non-pilot commanders on the extremely automated moon missions? Things don't always go to plan.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 16, 2012 5:30 PM    Report this comment

My tongue-in-cheek look at flying cars a while back:

flyingdonald DOT blogspot DOT com/2011/03/roadable-plane-flying-car-whatever DOT html

Imho the generation of amphib LSAs now approaching the market are better targeted at the fun flier segment, and they're cheaper to boot.

Posted by: Ben Inglis | April 16, 2012 7:42 PM    Report this comment


What makes you think that AAVs need special rules or isolated airspace? Ability to comply with an electronically-issued clearance is not dependent upon having a human in the aircraft control loop.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 16, 2012 8:30 PM    Report this comment

Ben, If anything your piece brings home the real dangers of the road portion for me; rocks, ruts, tire blowouts, high winds, train tracks, potholes, sudden hailstorms, black (clear) ice, good grief. I would feel like a ref at a pro football game, vulnerable and unprotected, one slip and I'm the one on the stretcher.

Without data for support and a lot of confident statements on the positive benefits of this, uh, idea, I feel like some benevolent cosmic entity is asking us to just drink the refreshing liquor that's being offered, then we'll understand. Well, it sure looks good and refreshing, but you'll have to throw us a bone of a survey or test trial first or we'll just think you're trying to get us drunk so we'll stop pulling back the curtain. :)

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 16, 2012 9:52 PM    Report this comment

"What makes you think that AAVs need special rules or isolated airspace?"

Because existing rules don't work with large numbers of autonomous aircraft in very close proximity. The airspace system is overwhelmed now. Guess what the effect would be if tens of thousands of autonomous aircars started mixing with existing air traffic in a metropolitan area?

Rules not only have to be written for AAV's but also change existing FAR's for current traffic. Right-of-way, expanding the number of xponder codes, complete 100% positive control coverage of the USA, etc, etc.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 16, 2012 9:55 PM    Report this comment

"Build it and they will come"...there are obviously many, many hurdles to overcome but I think we're missing the point of the original article. There was no path to the moon in the early 60's yet by the end of that decade we'd put someone on it...

Have you seen that freaky UAV video on this site we're they're all swarming together in tight proximity? Imagine scaling that up and putting humans in those "UAVs"...simply get in, tell it where you're going and off it goes...

Posted by: Julian O'Dea | April 17, 2012 12:46 AM    Report this comment

"but I think we're missing the point of the original article. There was no path to the moon in the early 60's yet by the end of that decade we'd put someone on it... "

That's an excellent point. And what was the public support for continuing the billion dollar missions AFTER it happened? I'm sure everyone will cheer a new flying car, but what will the public support be when the practicality (or lack of it) sets in?

We've not even touched on TFR's grounding entire cities or how TSA would feel about enabling the general public to sail over their ground based security.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 17, 2012 7:08 AM    Report this comment


Transponders are about to become obsolete. Right-of-way rules already exist - the quantity of on-board pilots is immaterial. ADS-B, for all of its shortcomings, will make it possible for an on-board control system to track the wanderings of every target that represents a potential collision threat to the vehicle - and to share its corrective-action intentions with same, then to execute them with "machine-like" precision.

I sincerely don't want this to sound like an insult, but your comment that we'll need 100% positive control coverage of the USA reveals that you might profit from reading up on how ATC will function in the NEXGEN era. The days of "scope dopes" manually sorting out blips, and communicating verbally with aircrews over a common simplex radio frequency, are about to be behind us. Halleluja.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 17, 2012 7:13 AM    Report this comment

Thomas, right-of-way rules for powered aircraft are based on see-and-avoid. The rules say that the OPERATOR of the aircraft has that responsibility. There is nothing in 91.113 that REMOVES that responsibility from the operator and transferees that responsibility to non-human autopilots.

As far as non-verbal communication, you can actually LOOSE a lot of information by text only. Many times it's not what's said on frequency but how it's said that tells the real story. Ever here a controller hesitate before replying to an aircraft? Sometimes the spaces let you know exactly what's going on.

Personally I'm kinda sad that were loosing the days of real VFR and airports with personalities. The "machine-like" precision that's replacing it is very good technology, but it's just not nearly as much fun.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 17, 2012 8:02 AM    Report this comment


See and avoid is for VFR conditions only. "Seeing" does not require human eyes – only the ability to sense the presence/location/flight path of another vehicle. Autonomous vehicles already do that, and they do it far better than human pilots can.

I'm certainly with you, as far as interpreting silence as an auditory analogy to "reading between the lines" of non-verbal communications. But in an electronic-communications paradigm, lack of ambiguity is a positive thing. And eliminating frequency-saturation and simplex interference is a hugely positive thing.

ADS-B will let each aircraft know about every threat vehicle. Rare is the time when a human controller has the ability to do that. As the objective of ATC is to prevent physical contact between vehicles, any paradigm that abets that objective – and is affordable and practicable – is a good thing.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 17, 2012 12:16 PM    Report this comment

I've never seen the word "affordable" when refereeing to ADS-B. I've never heard the word "practical" given on the topic of flying cars. I really wish that it was so...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 17, 2012 2:39 PM    Report this comment

Burt Rutan spoke at Oshkosh on the subject of transportation. Burt stated that the only way to move our increasing number of people is by air. We simply cannot build enough highways to accommodate all of the future traffic.

I do not remember if he specifically addressed autonomous vehicles or not during this talk but his last design, the Bi-pod was a roadable aircraft.

I will keep an open mind on this subject until more data is available.

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 17, 2012 2:50 PM    Report this comment


ADS-B is only required in A, B and C airspace.

How are you going to safely operate these magic carpets in the rest of the country?


California thinks that high speed rail is the answer to moving more people as the airports/airways saturate.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | April 17, 2012 2:59 PM    Report this comment

Are there any non-government-subsidized mass transportaion rail or bus entities that produce a profit? Here in Phoenix both the buses and the major fail light rail are not profitable and drain the car driving taxpayers with subsidies. Ideas to connect to Tucson or Vegas fall harshly into the desert sand. They're talking about a new I-11 highway to Vegas, but the costs are stratospheric and, tho keeping an open mind, we're still sellin' off public buildings to Chinese entities to make ends meet.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 17, 2012 3:34 PM    Report this comment


"ADS-B is only required in A, B and C airspace." That will change, as soon as the government "decides" to shut down all of the radar installations in the country. Need a precedent? Loran C. I have a now-useless one in my panel. The good news is that active position-reporting is 100 times better than radar, for ATC purposes. The bad news is that essentially 100% of the reported positions will be reliant upon GPS - which is fantastic, right up until the moment that the GPS constellation gets shut down in a national emergency. Think that ATC had problems on 9-11-2001? Just wait until they attempt to get everything that's in the air onto the ground - without being able to see any of it at all. Remember that scene in "Failsafe" where they order that flight of four to pursue a bomber over the ocean on bingo fuel?

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 17, 2012 8:46 PM    Report this comment

Thomas, lets think it through. Radar coverage is NOT required in D, E, F and G airspace and ADS-B will not provide traffic separation services in that airspace.

That means that using ADS-B to control vehicles is completely at the liability of the manufacturer, not the FAA. They can use the ADS-B signals, but what happens next means that MANUFACTURERS are 100% liable for collisions. I don't think that any manufacturer of autonomous vehicles wants to assume that level of financial exposure.

Insurance and lawyers will kill such ventures, not technology.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 18, 2012 7:51 AM    Report this comment


I believe you are incorrect. ADS-B out equipped aircraft will broadcast their position to all other ADS-B out equipped aircraft regardless of what airspace they are in.

Autonomous aircraft would be able to avoid each other automatically without ATC intervention.

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 18, 2012 9:23 AM    Report this comment


The FAA is going to "phase out" radar. This is the government's decision – not that of some manufacturer, or of any operator. The participants of a collision always are assigned the lion's share of the blame (which is not quite the same as liability).

The manufacturers of AAVs are free to employ any additional technology as they see fit, to sense the wanderings of proximate threats. Even a primitive technology like TCAS demonstrates that machines offer a vastly superior level of awareness and evasion directives than that provided by human pilots and controllers.

For the responsibility-averse, the risks associated with AAVs will be far less than for piloted ones. Machines don't get tired; don't drink alcohol or take drugs; don't suffer airborne disabling events; don't get "rusty" with lack of recent experience; and most importantly, they don't EVER break any of the rules that they're programmed to execute.

Flight-control software captures and leverages the combined knowledge and experience of thousands of pilots since flying began. No human pilot ever could compete with that.

In two decades or less, people will wonder what all of the fuss ever could have been about. Remember when elevators had human operators? It's amazing how many people are qualified to push a button that tells an autonomous machine what floor they'd like to be delivered to in a tall building. It's coming. Soon.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 18, 2012 9:35 AM    Report this comment

"Autonomous aircraft would be able to avoid each other automatically without ATC intervention."

Which is why the MANUFACTURER is responsible for any collision. When you remove the FAA and the occupants from control, the builder becomes 100% responsible for any collision/accident.

I don't see any way around the problem of liability on "autonomous" flying cars. Heck, I'm not sure what the insurance rate would be for normal flying cars that expose "airplanes" to the hazards of parking an driving. Any damage means you go to an FAA repair station, not a local garage...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 18, 2012 9:46 AM    Report this comment

"For the responsibility-averse, the risks associated with AAVs will be far less than for piloted ones"

Piloted planes rest at secure airports; AAV's on the other hand would be wide open in parking lots and streets. Do you really expect Joe Sixpack to do a proper preflight? Every time?

Think it through. Airplanes and flying anythings are not cars anymore. You can't just jump in and go.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 18, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

My point is that not all aircraft will need, or have ADS-B out.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | April 18, 2012 10:06 AM    Report this comment

"My point is that not all aircraft will need, or have ADS-B out." Edd Weniger

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is a surveillance technology for tracking aircraft as part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).[1] The United States will require the majority of aircraft operating within its airspace to be equipped with some form of ADS-B Out by January 1, 2020.[2]

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 18, 2012 12:23 PM    Report this comment


"Piloted planes rest at secure airports; AAV's on the other hand would be wide open in parking lots and streets." No, sir. You're conflating AAVs with "flying cars." AAVs will be based at airports, just like their human-crewed brethren.

"Do you really expect Joe Sixpack to do a proper preflight? Every time" If JS is just buying a ride in an AAV that is operated by others (think Part 135), he won't ever have to - the operator will do that. If he's operating his own AAV, I expect that he'll be trained to do so; will be subject to regulations that will require him to do so; will be certificated to perform all such non-pilot Operator actions as are appropriate to the vehicle in question.

And if you think that good old certificated pilots always do a proper prefilght, or conduct proper prefilght planning...

As for autonomous cars - have you seen Google's?

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 18, 2012 12:48 PM    Report this comment


I know exactly what ADS-B is. It will be a requirement for aircraft to operate in Class A, B, and C airspace, at some point in the future (note the implementation of the requirement has been pushed out along with the delays in full implementation of the Nexgen system).

There is a lot of the U.S.A. outside of these areas. And a lot of planes will not have ADS-B out if they don't need it. Hence, these magic carpet AAVs will not be able to "see" all other traffic.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | April 18, 2012 1:50 PM    Report this comment

The point to the blog is will the goal of flying cars be the new national inspiration for our youth as the race to the moon was.

If in the future, if we have that much determination, that much need, that much reasonably priced fossil fuel, that much desire, and that much money to insist on getting people out of their increasingly fuel efficient, maybe then-electric cars and efficient ground mass transit, and into pilotless aircraft -willingly- then the technical aspects will be worked out. Until then, it is surprising to me that the focus is on this one aspect of the idea, when to me this is not where the attention should be. America itself wanted to go to the moon, to win the big wars, to build a solid middle class. Our biggest inner push nowadays? Self-gratification - most barely glance at our wars and the corruption of government and big business. We have a long way to go - probably way past the usefulness of ADS-B even - to have such a national movement of focused conviction.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 18, 2012 4:06 PM    Report this comment

Dave, Flying cars = Self-gratification. Flying cars are personal, fuel inefficient, and have been done already. They are not a move forward by any measure. They have all the "inspiration" of restarting the Apollo program.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 18, 2012 7:01 PM    Report this comment

With all due respect Mark, there is a project out there now that will prove you wrong. Efficiency, safety, great styling, comfort, speed, amoung other attributes will appear on the horizon in the near future, keep watching.

Posted by: Don Campbell | April 19, 2012 9:22 PM    Report this comment

Don, Speed cost money. Safety in the air costs money. Comfort costs money. Styling is superfluous. History proves flying cars wrong.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 19, 2012 10:34 PM    Report this comment

Mark,Flying cars have not had a history yet, other than Mort Taylor. Nothing has been built or flown yet that you can base that statement on. Look to the future. Safety, comfort, style, efficiency and speed are possible, without great cost. As I said earlier, it will happen sooner than you think.

Posted by: Don Campbell | April 20, 2012 12:36 AM    Report this comment

'Look to the future. Safety, comfort, style, efficiency and speed are possible, without great cost.'

Funny, and timely, that similar claim was made in the documentary I just watched tonight on PBS called 'Revenge of the Electric Car'. On a global scale, attitudes, attention and creativity are resurging for the personal electric car. Corporations, entrepeneurs, engineers and independent grass-roots innovators are galvanizing toward making the electric car a reality for the average person.

Whether one likes the electric car idea or not, here is actual evidence of inspiration on a global, not just national scale. And then you have fossil fuel dependent flying autonomous cars. It must be a secret program, as I just can't find anyone to tell me about it.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 20, 2012 3:54 AM    Report this comment

"Mark,Flying cars have not had a history yet, other than Mort Taylor. Nothing has been built or flown yet that you can base that statement on"

The LACK of flying cars IS the history of flying cars. Modern standards of safety and noise and regulations(and public anti-aircraft sentiment) make it all the more difficult to do one now.

What is the cost/benefit of a flying car Vs. spending the same money on having 2 Porsche's(one on each end) and a Used Bonanza?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 20, 2012 10:41 AM    Report this comment

Mark, the point of this blog was not so much to analyze the issues with the current crop of "flying cars," which certainly embody all the issues you (and others) have noted, but to think about how emerging technologies might evolve over the next few decades to solve this problem of personal transportation in a more innovative way.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 20, 2012 11:25 AM    Report this comment

"The advantage of replacing the Moon-shot goal with a flying-car goal is that flying cars overflow with clear and real usefulness and purpose."

Mary, Maybe we should have a "Moon-shot goal," but this ain't it. Frankly, it irritates me that this "flying car" gets so much media attention when there are so many far more worthy projects going on in aviation.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 20, 2012 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Mary, your correcting Mark this morning gave me pause. I can see now that the intent was supposed to be limited to the technological possibilities of the flying car idea, and my and others' posts suggesting motive, plausibility, need and acceptance by the public were really not a concern. I'm not being facetious here, but maybe a limitation like this could be outlined a little clearer in the future for a more concise discussion.

It was all I could do to build my homebuilt aircraft over six years, so heaven knows a technological whiz I am not. But I kept it under 30k, it's built like a tank and safe. She's not much to look at, but the VW bud vase on the panel tries to make up for it. :)

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 20, 2012 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Dave, it's not that all those things aren't a concern, but I think they apply mainly to something like Terrafugia ... that is, an airplane that drives you to the airport ... rather than to something that can actually go from point to point. I know such things don't yet exist, but that was kind of the point. Some folks might think they don't exist because they're not possible, and that might be true. But it also might be true, IMO, that they just don't exist yet because we still have more to discover. Also I dont mean to limit the discussion at all, but it did seem like things were going round in circles, and was hoping that a little course correction might help.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 20, 2012 2:41 PM    Report this comment

Mary, emerging technologies are all evolving to do away with the need for personal transportation. Emerging technologies are making it more likely to stay at home, work from home, and get entertainment at home. The problem of personal transportation is best addressed (by technology) by making personal transportation obsolete; tele-presence or efficient mass-transit. Such technologies are green, efficient, and also reduces the need to pave-the-planet for roads.

Technology is making personal flying even harder to justify...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 20, 2012 2:50 PM    Report this comment

What about personal mass transit? That is, instead of each of us having a personal aircraft, having access to an aircraft that can come get you, then go off to transport someone else instead of clogging up a parking space. Though I think you're right about the trend, and I expect a big part of the transportation systems of the future will be about finding ways to make a lot of our personal travel unnecessary.

Posted by: Mary Grady | April 20, 2012 3:03 PM    Report this comment

Ok, Mary, if they come to pass, please assure me the air taxi will be air-conditioned - we have an 8 minute wait policy in Phoenix, after that one melts into the surface - and make them windowless. If the air conditioning is faulty I don't want to be able to look down at all the happy people in their cool electric cars pointing up at me, laughing at the sweat dripping off the elevator!

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 20, 2012 4:54 PM    Report this comment

I am viewing this whole debate from this angle: look at the Tesla Roadster. It is a very cool electric vehicle that shows what can be accomplished with the present technology. Is it expensive? Yep. Will I own one? Nope. I do get excited by what it represents, an imaginative use of technology.

Now if some company develops a workable roadable aircraft, even if it is priced way beyond the the average pilot's checkbook, I believe it will stimulate more thinking along those lines. This could lead to something akin to the Volkswagen of roadable aircraft.

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 20, 2012 8:46 PM    Report this comment

Dave Miller said: "And then you have fossil fuel dependent flying autonomous cars."

The dependence upon fossil fuels (hydrocarbon fuels, actually) is a consequence of their energy density. When you have to lug around your energy supply, and you're doing that in a vehicle that has to fly, you look for the fuel that weighs the least for each delivered unit of thrust-supplying energy. This is true regardless of the road-ability of your vehicle.

Autonomous vehicle technology likewise is independent of the road-ability of a vehicle.

Where the incremental cost of "upgrading" a 2-seat LSA into a road-able vehicle is a near-tripling of the LSA's price (Terafugia Transition), as an engineer I'm compelled to ask: How many really good cars could you buy and operate with that extra $150k? Concomitantly, what LSA airborne performance do you sacrifice by making your LSA road-able? Cars that are boats; boats that are planes; planes that are cars; picnic tables that are chicken coops – all are possible; none are optimum. On the other hand, Swiss Army Knives are popular. Of course, they're also inexpensive. There wouldn't be much of a market for a $1,000 SAK. I guess we're about to find out how much of a market there is for a $300k "flying car."

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 21, 2012 9:57 AM    Report this comment

With coffee and a sudden fright I think I was able to follow the hydrocarbon-energy-thrust-weight explanation, Thomas. And in all considerations, don't leave out the weight of an air-conditioner, por favor, for those of us in the desert SW.

But my view was narrow - natural gas and french fry oil could work too, right? Ok, but smelling french fries instead of jonquils early morning from air taxis over my house is not going to sit well with me, just saying.

Other random thoughts- if these airborne Yellow cabs will be pilotless, will alcohol be allowed on board? Who's going to say no? Flat-screen tv's and Wi-fi? Guns? How about composting toilets, or at least some Johnny-on-the-go bags. The airtaxis would be the perfect designated driver - turbulence got you a little airsick from partying? No problem, job security for cleaning crews at the numerous airpads spread over the country. Only a half hour wait, please be patient.

Ah, the possibilities are endless.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 21, 2012 1:30 PM    Report this comment


Properly treated, French fry oil indeed could work. But burnability is subordinate to fungibility. That characteristic is an important aspect of the search for a replacement fuel for 100LL, too. Lots of stuff would work, but to be successful, the industry would have to either choose one and only one composition, or ensure that the various compositions not only provide comparable performance, but that they can be co-mingled without consequence.

One of the nicest things about Jet-A is that it's ubiquitous. Right now, the cheapest way to brew the stuff is to refine it from crude oil. But you could make it from cow farts, if you had to.

Electric power would be nice in so many ways. But the extension cords would get all tangled up amid conflicting cross-country flights! That leaves us with batteries (too heavy) and fuel cells (good, but reliant upon cryogenic storage of hydrogen, unless we can find a way to make high-density foam storage practical).

Yup – hydrocarbon fuels are going to be the aeronautical choice for the foreseeable future, if only because of the exigencies of P-chem.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | April 22, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

Thanks, Thomas, that was interesting, though I had to look up what P-chem was. Probably best I stick with the humanities for now, I'm losing too many brain cells from aging let alone exercising them to death. After all, you're talking to a guy that, as a little boy building scores of airplane models, was crushed to one day discover, through my own TV no less, that Flash Gordon, my hero, was suspended by FISHING LINE while hovering in his spaceship saving the world from evil. No doubt a prime motivator for me to get into the mental health field - how many other boys and girls were out there depressed over this stunning loss of magic?

I'm going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even intelligent engineers and devil's advocates, that this was an exercise in technical verisimilitude for the idea of a new, national airborne transportation system of the future, but that eventually, the fishing line of reality will keep this unnecessary and unneeded concept where it belongs - on blog forums and not in boardrooms. Then again, with gas $4 a gallon and behemoth trucks and Suv's resurging in sales, it just may be an electric car under the wing of the shuttle at the Smithsonian rather than a flying car in the future. A seer I am not.

Posted by: Dave Miller | April 22, 2012 1:36 PM    Report this comment

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