Flying Car Fatigue

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I was born in Texas and even by the tender age of 10, I knew what the oil-patch aphorism "big hat, no cattle" meant. If it was true in the 1950s, it's just as true now. I thought of it when our news columns lit up this week with yet another artist's conception of a flying car, this time from Terrafugia.

There's a dichotomy here. One branch of it leads to the daily working press which, on a slow news day, will pick up stories about flying cars and run them as though they're legitimate glimpses into the future, replete as they are with fantastic speeds and unparalleled capability and convenience. Daily news editors needn't be troubled by practical aerodynamics or physics because tomorrow they'll be covering Justin Bieber's hair in the same space.

The second branch leads to us, the professional aviation media and we are supposed to place aviation stories into the real world where aerodynamics and physics do come along to dope slap the dreamy-eyed flying car impresario, just as has been happening for, oh, 75 years or so. We didn't do that this week in our Terrafugia story. Played it as straight as an above-the-fold lead in the New York Times.

But really, shouldn't we occasionally just call bravo sierra on some of this stuff? Aren't we in danger here of a little bit of flying car fatigue? I certainly am. I appreciate the dingbat factor in these stories and—wink-wink—I get that readers generally understand that on the seriousness scale, they rank somewhere between Elvis sightings and Phil Swift flogging Flex Seal by the metric ton.

So I guess I'm in the mood to pipe up here. I'd like to see Terrafugia cease and desist on new concepts and bring what they've got to fruition. Or not. It's hard enough to drag one design to market without distracting yourself with yet more concepts. Prove to us once and for all whether a flying car will work. Or not.

I can stand only so much entertainment.

Comments (103)

The aviation industry is ripe with tales of companies that survived by moving the target, and by teasing customers about the latest and greatest thing on the horizon in order to attract new investment/deposits without actually delivering a real product. That's what irks me most about the TF-X: it isn't merely that the flying car remains a pipe dream, but that it reminds me so much of shell games run by other aspiring (and, for the most part, now deceased) aviation companies. Remember the Eclipse 400?

Posted by: Rob Finfrock | May 8, 2013 4:38 PM    Report this comment

I view the current flying car hupe as similar to the Bede aircraft hupe of the 70's---as you said big hat no cattle--these folks are looking for investor money to continue their life style at the investor expense--I believe a type of flying car or drivable aircraft is possible but in the form these guys are proposing ---I.E. ---none of them have any background in aviation or are pilots---just because you are an engineer who graduated from MIT don't mean anything--- Remember the Granville brothers built some of the fastest piston driven airplanes ever by drawing around the pilot sitting on their shop floor with a piece of chalk--ie, the GB racer.---thanks for the oportunity to reply---doc

Posted by: richard wecker | May 8, 2013 9:13 PM    Report this comment

These people are raising money online and that doesn't seem right. I don't know why I let it annoy me, but when the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and every other news organization runs their silly snake-oil-salesman illustrations and proclamations--I get annoyed. I called them today and to ask how many hours has the Transition prototype flown; I was surprised that some well spoken Kool-Aid drinker answered me directly by saying "fifty hours." That doesn't sound like a lot of testing after all these years. Apparently, they're still "in business," someone is investing money and I can't imagine why.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | May 8, 2013 10:11 PM    Report this comment

After listening to the podcast about the Terrafugia's latest Jetsons project, I don"t know whether to laugh or cry. They want to keep the development costs under 1 billion dollars. ONE BILLION. The audacity of these kind of companies never ceases to amaze me, when they can't even produce one item that is remotely successful, never mind marketable. Are investors really that dumb? If they are, please contact me about my dilithium crystal generator.

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | May 8, 2013 10:59 PM    Report this comment

These people must have bought Professor Moller's book- "How To Get Rich Selling The Flying Car Dream."
The aircraft design and business plan looks almost identical, in principle, to the 40 year Moller scam, but even more ludicrous, if that is possible.

Posted by: Bill Berson | May 8, 2013 11:22 PM    Report this comment

Yeah I saw that and thought "Eclipse promoting the new single engine jet before their only product, which took ages to build, was certified and out in the wild".

Posted by: John Hogan | May 9, 2013 1:50 AM    Report this comment

In Australia, the saying is "All hat, No cattle". Terrafugia are making a comfortable living talking the talk. I guess they know that they won't make a living selling aircraft.

Posted by: phil grainger | May 9, 2013 2:47 AM    Report this comment

For info on the Maverick, look for maverick lsa. For the family-owned Maverick, and their dozens of videos, look for Ray & Julie Siebring.

Posted by: Steve King | May 9, 2013 3:19 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I share your fatigue of flying car concepts with no models available to purchase and fly away. However, I believe there is a place for dreams in the aviation world and the flying cars satisfy a significant portion of this need.

We all know there will never be a practical car/plane without a major technology breakthrough like antigravity engines or miniature fusion power plants. Still, many people get excited over the idea of flying over traffic jams or crossing rivers where there is no bridge in place.

Without dreams there would be no aircraft at all.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2013 5:23 AM    Report this comment

Two items here:
1) The concept of flying car is selling futures (gambling)and lots of hope. We as humans seem to love future and hope and that is why investors will open their pockets for such deals. The future is never set in stone, things will change and that's what the sellers (could be called scamers)are banking on.
2)Why do we have to drive to a runway before we can fly? If the vehicle can VTOL then there is no need to drive anywhere is there so the car part is not necessary. That is great for the tree huggers we can now remove the car from our lives. Sorry for those on the ground but then life is dangerous ain't it.
UAV's would have a hard time doing their job and with the car accidents moved to the air this could be fun Who said I was SANE.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2013 5:38 AM    Report this comment

An "everyman" V-22 that you can drive, park in your garage, and learn to fly in 5 hours?

As someone mentioned, it reads like an April Fool's gag.

The laws of aerodynamics and physics doom this one from the start, but sadly a bunch of investors will be fleeced in the processed.

Posted by: STEPHEN MAYOTTE | May 9, 2013 5:39 AM    Report this comment

Welcome to reality-ville, Paul. Very few in the aviation media ever look past the hype for a solid business case. Consider instead two of the most successful designers of the past few decades, Ken Krueger (formerly of Vans) and Burt Rutan. Both announce new designs typically after the first flight. Rutan has flown aircraft we'll never see, the ones he considered failures. Too many new aircraft have fallen into the Silicon Valley model - find financing, create a media frenzy with a slick model or half-baked prototype, then start taking orders. Tucker, Bede, Icon, Terrafugia, etc. are all such examples. In the meantime, the largest manufacturer of light aircraft is Italy's Tecnam, a company few even today know. The technology leader is perhaps Pipistrel, whose native country of Slovenia many could not find on a map. It would help us all if the media did more due diligence on news before printing glowing press releases. You are one of the few that asks the important questions. Keep doing it please. The same goes for our Alphabets, what are we really getting for our money?

Posted by: Kent Misegades | May 9, 2013 6:25 AM    Report this comment

Flying car?

I'm still waiting for an affordable LSA...

Posted by: Robert Ore | May 9, 2013 6:47 AM    Report this comment

I think we should forget about the laws of physics and consider the laws of nature when it comes to flying cars. I can be reasonably sure that when I drive my car under a class 2 or 3 thunderstorm I will probably come out OK. In a plane (or flying car), not so much. Weather is such an important factor in flying that no one's allowed to leave the ground unless he or she's fully schooled on the myriad ways that nature can put you back down on the ground sooner than you intended. If the flying car "visionaries" had to explain how a person with 5 hours training (less than I spent in drivers' ed) can successfully pilot a flying whatever as easily and safely as driving a car, they would quickly fold up their carnival tents and sneak out of town on the next freight train going west.

Posted by: James Freal | May 9, 2013 7:00 AM    Report this comment

It will happen: flying cars will arrive when we have the regulations in place that allow a passenger carrying, (unpiloted) autonomous vehicle. The hardware for that is available now, but it would take a massive shift in the meaning of 'general aviation' for the regulations to change. I expect it will be driven by the general rise of drones and the refocusing of the regulatory environment to accommodate them; and by the affluent, who want to
be able to commute long distances without sitting in traffic.

I haven't read anything but the headline of the Terrafugia release, but it seems plausible to me that a 'hybrid' is the best way to do this - single turbine engine driving a high-speed alternator, powering electric motors to turn the rotors. Another electric motor can power an axle, so that the thing can trundle around at low speed (30mph?) on the ground.

Of course, it would be massively expensive compared to a car, but at $2m you could sell hundreds/thousands to people who want the utility of such a vehicle, but aren't interested in flying per se.

Thirty years or so, is my guess. Probably it will happen outside the US first (South America? China?) and eventually migrate here when it proves to be safe and successful.

Posted by: Ceri Reid | May 9, 2013 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Paul notes that “Daily news editors needn't be troubled by practical aerodynamics or physics…”

Sadly, the underlying problem is that the vast majority of the population has at best only the vaguest understanding of such things to start with, and even this minimal knowledge can easily be subverted by the “distrust authority” syndrome. Tell Joe Average that the reason he doesn’t have a water-burning engine in his car is that Big Oil has suppressed the knowledge and in spite of a lifetime of experience with the properties of water he’ll accept that explanation unquestioningly.

Posted by: John Wilson | May 9, 2013 7:59 AM    Report this comment

Flying cars again?? Haven't we beaten that dead horse several times already? Imagine Los Angeles at rush hour with everyone in their flying cars after 5 hours training. Flying cars have been done, it ain't rocket surgery but now comes Terrawhatsis with unobtanium and vaporware powered by hybrid fluxdrives and fertilizer.

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 9, 2013 8:09 AM    Report this comment

Back in my college aircraft design class we had one guy who designed a flying car/hovercraft with 4 big fans on each corner of the fuselage. As the course progressed, wings appeared, then a horizontal stabilizer, then a vertical stabilizer, and by the end of the class it looked like a real airplane. The student's comment was "Now I know why airplanes look the way they do--they've evolved to the most efficient configuration!!!"


Posted by: David Rosing | May 9, 2013 8:22 AM    Report this comment


There is a problem in aviation. It is not Terrafugia (my company) and Icon, or even failed ventures like Eclipse or Bede. It is the attitude conveyed by your piece. If you would like to see big innovation in aviation, why badmouth companies like Terrafugia, Icon, or even Eclipse?

Why actively espouse a philosophy of calling those of us who are willing to risk more than you "scam artists" when the only possible effect is to inhibit innovation in a dying industry? Our investors understand that nothing is certain, but they believe (as I do) that this is a worthwhile risk to take. Every person in this industry should thank those investors including myself who are willing to risk their money (and in my case, my career) on an industry that is so challenging to enter.

Our company is made of pilots and engineers -- we spend all of our time working on these problems. We have flying hardware. We understand the laws of physics. The TF-X is physically achievable with known engineering. It will not be a trivial challenge, but it is one we believe is worth pursuit.

It is sad that such a large part of this industry is trapped by a self-defeating philosophy. If you were successful at inhibiting companies like Terrafugia and Icon from promoting themselves, how would that help aviation?

Posted by: Carl Dietrich | May 9, 2013 8:32 AM    Report this comment

Reminds me of a conversation I had once with an oil field technician (another Texas metaphor, Paul). I casually asked when he thought his latest project would hit oil -- his response: "Oil? I hope to never see any oil. I make my money drilling holes."
These company stakeholders make their money drilling holes. If they were ever presented with the challenge to make money producing and selling hardware they would be out of business in a week.

Posted by: Glenn Killinger | May 9, 2013 8:53 AM    Report this comment

With those wings it looks like it will either have to cruise at 500kts or it will have the glide ratio of a brick.

To dream, the...

Posted by: CRAIG MAIMAN | May 9, 2013 9:12 AM    Report this comment

Provocative and thoughtful article, Paul. I suspect that most folks who work(ed) in the failed or struggling companies to develop fantastic aircraft are/were not "scammers," but rather, as Paul Poberezny used to call them, "dreamers." Dreams are often powerful enough to overcome disappointing reality. Temporarily.

Posted by: Hunter Heath | May 9, 2013 9:30 AM    Report this comment

The Maverick "flying car" is actually an ATV supported by a parasail. I don't think you can consider this a true flying car, and no highway would allow an exposed prop like that. Essentially it's a way of moving an ATV across really rugged terrain in low winds only, and it would be easy to land this thing where you could never get airborne again. To me, a flying car means something you can fly there, then drive from the airport around town on regular roads with conventional traffic. So there is still no flying car out there.

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | May 9, 2013 10:35 AM    Report this comment


I don't think there's any fault in dreaming in aviation, but this is a site that is predominantly by and for pilots. We do, amongst other things, have some idea about aerodynamics. You're talking about a plane that will supposedly fly 200kt on a 350hp engine (faster than an SR22 on only 40 more HP, with a much more draggy airframe), presumably at unpressurized altitudes. You're talking about an autonomous helicopter landing by a vehicle that will supposedly be analyzing meteorological conditions, gross weight, CG, landing area conditions, etc. You're talking about the FAA allowing non-pilots to dispatch and "pilot" flights with little to no training. You talk about 8-12 years of development and $1B, and we all know that public estimates of aircraft certification time and cost tend to be half to a quarter of what ends up being reality.

In short, everything here "looks" like Terrafugia is running out of money and is flailing for some more investor cash to just get the Transition to market. I don't know if that's true, nor does any other reader here know. However, the similarities in your presentation to that of Eclipse with its 400 are all too easy to notice.

Why not start shipping some Transitions before setting your sights on something that will consume any revenue you may pull in from the transition one-hundred-fold?

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 9, 2013 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Terrafugia damaged their credibility tremendously by announcing a plan to develop a “four-seat VTOL hybrid electric semi-autonomous flying car with a 500-mile range”. Any of us who have been around the aviation community for a long time have seen many visionaries who never successfully brought a great new, sustainable product to market. I’ve met the folks at Terrafugia numerous times at different shows and they really seem to be a breath of fresh air with young, engineering students and professionals. They seem to be doing it right with a unique approach to an old concept and they seemed to have a methodical, deliberate approach that was overcoming the many challenges. They are just barely out of the gate with a potentially viable product and now, they diverted their focus to a futuristic concept that seems to far into the future to be of any real substance. Very disappointing!

Posted by: Jim Janaitis | May 9, 2013 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Carl Dietrich, I started to write a reply, but I see Joshua Levinson wrote it for me.

A press release that promises science-fiction levels of performance will meet with skepticism from people who know quite well why a Long-EZ flies faster than a Cherokee, and also know what the Long-EZ gives up to achieve that speed.

Tell us _why_ you can break through what we thought were unbreakable laws of physics and we will lay palm fronds at your feet. But the extravagant promise, without such specifics, leaves us shaking our heads.

Posted by: John Schubert | May 9, 2013 11:31 AM    Report this comment

About David's comment that the Maverick isn't a "flying car," because "no highway would allow an exposed prop like that." On the ground, its Subaru engine drives the rear wheels directly, and the prop doesn't rotate. From the Maverick website: "A number of Mavericks has already been licensed in Florida, and may be driven on any public road in the US." At least one has been driven from Florida to Oshkosh.

Posted by: Steve King | May 9, 2013 11:36 AM    Report this comment

We really should lighten up a bit. Is it any worse than Fisker or Solandra? Just be thankful they are using OPM, not ours! I watched Bede in the 60's. He had escrow $$ on the Bede (became Yankee) that had to either get an airplane or returned if FAA cert occurred. Every time that got close he added some new feature (the wings will FOLD). Let's face it, the real obstacle to R&D is the outdated FAA cert requirements. Starship was a classic example, FAA- "first we'll do the stall series", Beech - "but it's a canard...etc". Ya gotta chuckle...JH

Posted by: Jim Hackman | May 9, 2013 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Aviation is full of promises not kept. Every year at Oshkosh there are announcements of wonderful sounding products that are never heard from again.

It would be cool if Avweb went 10 years into the archives once a year and did a 'Where are they now?' report on all product announcements. Rotax V-6? Canceled. Various diesel engines? Just another year of development and they'll be ready, even though they've been a year away for a decade.

Posted by: John Clear | May 9, 2013 1:27 PM    Report this comment

But strong there, Thomas. I don't think we have reason to believe there's any fraud here. Dreamers are allowed to dream, even it we hold their feet to the fire on delivering.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2013 1:28 PM    Report this comment

I think this article should be titled "Terrafugia Fatigue", not flying car fatigue.

As Steve King pointed out, the Maverick LSA is fully FAA certified, and fully street legal. Any car that can do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds is a legit performance vehicle.

It won Popular Mechanics 2009 Breakthrough Award, has been driven to Oshkosh, and has been legal on streets and in the air since 2010. It is in production and costs less than $100,000.

"Flying car" by definition is a car that can legally and safely fly. Why the prejudice against LSAs and/or powered parachutes? In my mind, using a semi-rigid parachute is brilliant, and the only thing that makes it possible to teach a non-aviator to fly it in under 10 hours.

It's a fantastic vehicle, and I don't understand why everyone is so caught up with the Terrafugia.

Posted by: Andrew Walton | May 9, 2013 1:47 PM    Report this comment

Paul: How about doing a feature article about the Maverick.
It would be nice if the Maverick somehow became more widely known than the Terrafugia, since the Maverick is real, not a dream. Any ideas on that, anyone?

Posted by: Steve King | May 9, 2013 1:54 PM    Report this comment

I guess the commenting rules didn't let me post the link. Paste the following into your browser to see the demo video,

Posted by: Carl Dietrich | May 9, 2013 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Carl Dietrich no offence and without prejudice but I cannot agree with all your statements. I was involved in a diamond mine scam which started small. A small investment to start the mine. There was a small output and we were encouraged to increase our investment to expand the mine all the time only little output but lots and lots of promises and to realize those promises we had to put more money in. Finally we called in the Serious Economic Branch of the police who investigated but could do nothing.

I'm not saying that Terrafugia is in the same league but once bitten twice shy. I get propositions everyday about how this and that small company is the future for one product or another and I need to move quick to invest in those companies. Over the years I have seen many such companies just disappear never to be seen again.

I agree with Paul "So I guess I'm in the mood to pipe up here. I'd like to see Terrafugia cease and desist on new concepts and bring what they've got to fruition. "

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2013 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Any airplane...regardless of how good it is ... is a compilation of an amazing number of compromises, to add "road-ability" to the mix has always been just one too many. People who "dream" to fly simply need to fulfill those dreams by learning and mastering the skills, go to the airport and select one of the hundreds of already compromised selection available. Now if the "journalists" can refrain from publishing the far fetched dreams of the would be inventors it would be a nice change. Until the "break through" comes, which I think is never.

Posted by: william laatsch | May 9, 2013 2:10 PM    Report this comment

We have actually asked several times to do an article on Maverick. They have declined.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2013 2:43 PM    Report this comment

All TerraFugia needs now is Vern Rayburn at the helm and the Vapor-Ware will be complete.

Posted by: RANDOLPH PALMA | May 9, 2013 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Carl Dietrich: I see two good things about Terrafugia, and the TFX. 1. I think that for small tilt-rotor aircraft, that a hybrid (but not plug-in), with power to the rotors via wire, will be "the way to go. 2: Your publicity people are REALLY good. The art work is fantastic--very "real" looking. I especially like those of the TF-X driving on a coastal highway, and in the driveway of a nice home. I see that media coverage includes the New York Daily News, the Sydney (Australia!) Herald, and this in USA Today: "Already, Terrafugia has gotten further than a raft of others either dreaming or designing a vehicle that can be both driven on streets and flown from airports." (It's a good thing USA Today isn't aware of the Taylor Aerocar, or of the Maverick.)

Posted by: Steve King | May 9, 2013 3:12 PM    Report this comment

I am not asking for your money. I am not even asking you to believe that my company will succeed. The only thing I am asking is that you do your best to ensure that the aviation community is one that encourages people who take risks and try ambitious things. Once upon a time, the aviation world appreciated those things -- that was when the industry was growing... Do you think that is a coincidence?

Posted by: Carl Dietrich | May 9, 2013 3:34 PM    Report this comment

And, for the record, we have no intention of "ceasing or desisting". We are working at Terrafugia because we think it's the right thing to do. It doesn't matter that our media attention "fatigues" you. It doesn't matter that our challenge is difficult; it would not be interesting or as potentially impactful if it was easy. What matters is that we continue to be 100% committed to making practical flying cars and that we intend to use every possible legal avenue to the best of our ability to make it succeed. We don't know if that will be good enough -- but we believe the vision is worth the effort -- so do our investors.

Posted by: Carl Dietrich | May 9, 2013 3:56 PM    Report this comment

Did the deposit holders understand the risk that the company might drift to other schemes?
How much taxpayer money is involved in support of this company?

Posted by: Bill Berson | May 9, 2013 4:08 PM    Report this comment

If advances in tech allow a new and more effective path to the product, a company would be foolish NOT to consider it. Many start-ups have failed for pushing through with a product that was obsolete when released. I've been hoping some hybrid aviation solutions would crop up and wish Carl the best. Even if they do not succeed they will at least push the envelope and help us learn what is possible - and what is not.

Posted by: neil cormia | May 9, 2013 4:33 PM    Report this comment

"I'm still waiting for an affordable LSA."

YES. But manufacturing a 2-place, 100-knot VFR machine for less than $100k must violate the laws of physics.

Posted by: Patrick Underwood | May 9, 2013 5:25 PM    Report this comment

Warbird Aventures at the Kissimmee airport(KISM) has
a flyable Molt Taylor Aero car.You can leave the
"airplane part", as someone called it, at the airport in the trailer or tow it with you on the road. I guess the concept was that if the weather got too bad on a trip you could land, switch to driving while towing your airplane parts, and when the weather became VFR stop at an airport, put your wings back on and continue flying. Might reduce those vfr into imc type accidents.
I had never seen one fly but about seven months ago we had landed at KISM for fuel and lo and behold,
there was the Aerocar doing touch and goes in the pettern. It was interesting to see and I enjoyed it
very much. It appeared to handle and fly quite well and ended up in one piece after the last landing. I
have read so much material bad mouthing it that I
kind of wondered if in flight photos of it were a one
time event. I'm not trying to defend the concept or
anything else, would just like to share the fun it was to see it performing in flight.

Posted by: Joe Sikora | May 9, 2013 9:53 PM    Report this comment

Carl, welcome to the fray.

My intent here is not to badmouth Terrafugia but to merely do my job, which is to occasionally cast critical thought on the passing aviation parade. Checking our news columns, we have done about 28 straight news stories since Terrafugia surfaced in 2008. That's coming up on five years and still no marketable product in sight. We've never done the story we should have: engineers and aerodynamicists evaluate the Transition.

The way to silence critics and naysayers has always been, is and remains to stand a deliver a marketable product. Show that it can be done and that the company can sustain itself selling its products.

This Terrafugia has not done. Although it has introduced yet another concept. It is fair to point this out.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2013 4:26 AM    Report this comment

Man, the world of opinions... :)
As much as I'd like Mr. Carl and his company to succeed, I (*WE*) have seen also lots of people/companies promise and fold. Some seem harmless (and probably not) like Moller and some made a mess like Eclipse. Time will tell...
And like if it wasn't enough, has anybody taken a look at www(DOT)samsonmotorworks(DOT)com?
If it ever flies, and I see it not only sort-of-possible but also more practical than the Terrafugia's, that's the one that I am getting.

Posted by: ENRIQUE TROCONIS | May 10, 2013 6:41 AM    Report this comment

Cars normally sell around 10 to 20 thousand (currency $, £, Euros, etc). Upper end cars are usually around $100 to $200 thousand plus but there is not really that many sold. Airplanes on the other hand start around $100 thousand.

If I was traveling from A to B in a high end car (Jaguar XJ) I do not want to fly, its only when I have to drive a normal car that I dream of flying, but at a cost of a high end car price I would rather have the car.

Carl I do not want to put down innovation but really if I can afford an airplane (home builds not included) I can afford the hanger costs and I don't have to move the aircraft on the roads, with every chance of it being damaged. If you really want to innovate can I suggest that you find a way to produce a $10 to 20 thousand aircraft for GA. That is when GA will expand and flourish.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 10, 2013 8:25 AM    Report this comment

It might be possible to save the company by switching to Homebuilt kits.
Kit sales would eliminate virtually all the onerous road and air certification rules. The plane could be made lighter.
Then after 40 years of design and BUSINESS experience ( like Van has) a factory design can be offered. (like Van is doing now)

Posted by: Bill Berson | May 10, 2013 10:02 AM    Report this comment

It's certainly possible to build a roadable four wheel car. It's almost certainly not possible to so within the LSA weight limits, as Terrafugia has now conceded.

I used to think that Terrafugia was at least a legitimate company, but with this silly cartoon airplane they have jumped the shark and landed on Planet Moller.

I would be real skeptical if they were planning to build a certified general aviation tilt rotor airplane. After all, it took Bell 50 years from their first experimental tilt rotor to a production V-22. And the V-22 is considered about the most difficult to fly airplane in the military inventory. And is always flow by a professional crew of at least 3.

Terrafugia might, just might, be able to pull off a GA tilt rotor to be flown by licensed power lift pilots. It would be a huge stretch, but might be possible.

It is Terrafugia's claim to be able to make a human rated tilt rotor UAV for operation by the general public that is so far fetched as to be ridiculous. This claim in my opinion is far, far, far more outlandish than any claim ever made in the darkest days of Bede or Eclipse.

Good luck Terrafugia, I hope you prove me wrong. But I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: Jim Howard | May 10, 2013 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Hello Carl,

Just gotta love you guys. You haven't delivered a production version of the long in development Transition as yet but you put out a press release yesterday for a newly conceived design of a VTOL flying car. The picture is very cool and Star Wars-like.

This is why so much ridicule, skepticsm and credibility questions are directed at your company. You have invited it and you cannot blame anyone but yourself for these critical attitudes.

You said, "This is the right time for us to begin thinking about the future of the company beyond Transition development. We are passionate about continuing to lead the creation of a flying-car industry..."

Carl, IMHO, you, your team and your investors have to give your collective heads a shake. "...thinking about the future beyond Transition..." How can you think about the FUTURE when there has not yet been a PRESENT??!! "...lead the creation of a flying-car industry..." WHAT INDUSTRY??!!

I applaud your visionary qualities and innovational mindset. It's exactly what GA needs but you have drunk too much of the cool-aid. Your smarts and talents would better serve GA in some other productive capacity.

If you want to contribute practical innovation to GA/LSA that appeals to a universal market then I have a challenge for you: Produce a conventional aircraft for $60K that pilots will want. If you achieve this you'll be a hero to GA who will beat a path to your door, the likes of which no one has hereto for seen.

Posted by: Jamie Wynne | May 10, 2013 10:57 AM    Report this comment

FYI for the thread here. Just off the phone with Russ Niles who was, unbeknownst to me, scheduled for a demo ride in the Maverick.

However, before that could happen, the vehicle crashed--early morning West Coast time. There are apparently injuries and damage, but no fatalities. He'll file a story in an hour or so.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2013 11:32 AM    Report this comment

Jamie - if there /was/ an industry, then how would you suppose that anyone lead in creating it?

Posted by: Rush Strong | May 10, 2013 12:08 PM    Report this comment

Terrafugia'a promoting the TF-X now, when they are having a hard time developing the Transition, makes me wonder. I wonder if there will be some kind of financial "wall" between the funds raised for the TFX, and the substantial additional $ needed to make Transition a good aircraft, and then to manufacture it. (I do see potential--not just a dream--for it becoming a good aircraft.) Apparently, Terrafugia hopes there are investors/venture capitalists who will throw large sums of money at anything which "sounds like a great idea," at least to the uninformed. If Terrafugia does get the $ billion+ it needs to seriously pursue the TF-X dream, I hope some good comes out of it.

Posted by: Steve King | May 10, 2013 12:21 PM    Report this comment

50 years between AeroCar and AW-609: yet we have to make a close connection there in that the reasons why the AeroCar could not succeed were both limited numbers of airports and limited parking space thereon -- hence, it was no game-changer as only a flying model T could have become.

Once the tilt-rotor landed at the urban periphery, its detachable cockpit can serve as a mini city-EV (and, yes, as a one-seater, which is the mass-market).

And, sorry, dear Carl: with your Terrafugia you are stubbornly sticking to an odd concept featuring indeed an acceptable aircraft, but not so a road-vehicle (that's why you get so much attention from the overall government-controlled media -- because the would-be U.S. rulers-of-the-world are panicked at the idea of loosing near-100% control of the global airspace).

Alas, you should have humbly accepted departing from Taylor's vision, and updating it with modern VERTOL airframe technology (e.g. tilt-rotor) -- hence, your latest dream is odd again since it too is a clumsy and vulnerable road vehicle (let alone the fact that with these stubby wings and tiny rotors airworthiness is wishful thinking).

Moreover, the tilt-rotor will first have to become eligible for civil certification with reversible-twist rotor blades, as you may know... (which is why the presidential MV-22 is not allowed to carry the president...).

And, BTW, a parachute cannot save a tilt-rotor in case of total power-loss at low altitude in helicopter configuration.

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 10, 2013 12:40 PM    Report this comment

A couple observations I have regarding some of the latest comments in this thread.

"It took Bell 50 years from their first experimental tilt rotor to a production V-22." It always takes the first the longest to accomplish anything new, but each successive attempt generally takes less and less time. It took the US several years and $$$ to create the first man-rated non-orbital flight in Mercury 7, but far less time for Scaled Composites to create Spaceship One. If someone is serious about creating another production tilt-rotor and they have the means to do so, I do believe it will progress quicker than 50 years.

"let alone the fact that with these stubby wings and tiny rotors airworthiness is wishful thinking". To their defense, the TF-X is just an artists concept, so the actual product (if there ever is one that will fly) could change somewhat. But in any case, short wings as on the TF-X aren't entirely out of the realm of possibility since it does look somewhat similar to the Custer Channel wing.

Just to be clear, I am generally with Paul on this one that Terafugia has so far been all talk and no action (as far as a production-ready version goes), and talking about the TF-X before the Transition is even in production is a bit premature. But I'm not completely discounting their dreams either.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | May 10, 2013 1:50 PM    Report this comment

Hmm, a quick aerodynamic set of observations: 1) Low wing area suggesting section Lift Coefficients needed on the order of 10 or greater (Current CL Max is ~ 2.5 with full slotted flap) 2) Rear ducted fan incredibly inefficient, expect propulsion efficiencies to be WAY lower than forward-mounted prop. 3) lack of control surfaces (rudder, elevator) indicate not much thought given to control. 4) Given the low wing area, a great deal of fuel will be needed to provide power for lift vector. So expect large amounts of fuel needed (or electric stored energy) In other words, the thing could carry people or it could carry fuel, but not both.

So I'll believe it when it flies. In the meantime, it's vaporware.

Posted by: David Rosing | May 10, 2013 5:33 PM    Report this comment


Joshua Levinson sums it up well.

Criticism from the kind of people you want to impress has got to hurt but in time, I reckon you'll understand that were the positions reversed, you'd be saying the same things we are. As a proposition, your vtol concept is much less outlandish than what Elon Musk is doing with SpaceX but he's got runs on the board via a hugely successful existing business and there has been steady progress. Aside from the ISS missions, YouTube "spacex ring of fire". I love the concept and I actively support dreamers via kick starter etc but it seems that I'm not the only one who wants to see more progress from you guys before you start announcing more ambitious projects. Elon Musk is actually on track to get to Mars. While feasible, I don't think your company is on track to be the people to bring the vtol vehicle to market. I'll consider changing my mind when I see Paul Bertorelli doing a flight and driving review of a production Terrafugia.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 10, 2013 10:52 PM    Report this comment

Without too much about the psychological aspects of a 3rd graders mentality, the flying car is not a practical aircraft, with limited demand for the price Vs. performance. When I was 8 years old, this was something that made sense to me, as an adult...I don't get it.

The money spent for the development of a flying car would have been better used to figure out how to economically manufacture a single or light twin airplane that was practical and has a market once the airplane is certified. Consider a new airplane that seats 4 people, flies at 200 mph with double the safety of current single engine airplanes, with a $1,000 annual inspection, and zero maintenance in between inspections...all at a price under $150,000! That is what the engineering for future airplanes needs to be, not some impractical project that can't be sold.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | May 11, 2013 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Michael, I'm not sure that the $150,000 plane you describe is any less difficult than building a marketable flying car/roadable airplane. Current technology can barely build a LSA for $150,000. It seems the immutable laws of aviation are: speed is expensive, reliability is expensive, room and payload are expensive and, since it seems most accidents are pilot error, idiotproofing is very expensive.

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 12, 2013 9:16 AM    Report this comment

As a prospective pilot, there IS a kind of "flying car" I'm desperate to see hit the market: a small, 2-5 seat GA airplane that has a cost of operation close to that of a car.
GA is still waiting for its Henry Ford, and now it needs him more than ever.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 12, 2013 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Paul, DARPA is still looking for a flying HUMVEE, is it not?

Posted by: Wash Phillips | May 12, 2013 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The reason we don't see flying cars around is that most concepts feature one device that can do both, but not very well... Taylor's AeroCar was the right path to follow, namely two separate vehicles -- yet mass-production calls for both VERTOL capability (since there's plenty of space at the urban periphery) and a one-seater, i.e., ultra-light concept (since the vast majority of car trips are made solo).

VERTOL calls in turn for a rotary-WING aircraft, ruling out (Moller-type) propellers because of lack of swept surface and thus autorotation capacity -- note that even the AW-609 with its huge propellers would need reversible-twist rotor blades for safe autorotation...

Next year, one of the vast halls of the Aero exhibition at Friedrichshafen will be dedicated entirely to electric aircraft -- whereby this year already the German company ProAero presented their experimental (13m wing-span) Electra One with a range of... 1000 km -- yes, 8 hours of flight at 125km/h drawing just 3kW from the battery!

The next mayor technological, and consequently political, revolution will be fought in the global airspace -- with the civil society challenging an unknown number of military drones with myriads of personal ultra-light electric tilt-rotor aircraft...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 12, 2013 5:21 PM    Report this comment

BOTTOM LINE WITH ALL OF AVIATION: If you have to ask "how much it is",chances are you can't afford it!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 12, 2013 8:37 PM    Report this comment

I think Richard missed the point. The money spent trying to make a car that flies could have been used to engineer an airplane that is affordable.

Two problems in GA:

#1) Lack of practical innovation. Avionics...yes, but ownership of these older airplanes costs a lot of money to maintain airworthiness. The acquisition cost isn't the expensive part of airplane ownership, its the cost of maintaining an outdated airframe and engine that costs.

#2) The process of manufacturing has not been improved on with the exception of Hawker Beech on composite fuselage. Other than that, ALL hand built, slow and expensive costing a lot of money. Figuring out how to build an airplane with a process that doesn't take near as many labor hours AND provides a much higher tolerances with respect to assembly. If you could cut the "man hours" down to 500 while building a better airplane, it is more affordable and with new technologies, hopefully less money to maintain.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | May 12, 2013 8:50 PM    Report this comment

@ Michael Dempsey - well put.

I was driving home the other day looking at the other cars on the road imagining them being made a like a C172 - it was amusing to imagine lots of rivets and individual sheets of metal on very light-weight structures. Kind of retro-cool too. It once again got me thinking about how you could punch out aircraft like a car chassis. Maybe it will be an additive, 3d-printing process? Or a more automated version of composite construction techniques? I've even wondered about building them like glorified surf-boards with a structural skeleton enclosed in moulds, the gaps filled with expanding styrofoam and fibreglassed over.

Aircraft are inherently simple, even if ensuring quality and getting the weight down are not. I look at something like the lightweight Lotus Elise sports car as a guide. It's made in relatively small numbers, uses modified mass-produced engines and the cheaper models are well under $100K. There is a lot more complication in one of them I reckon.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 12, 2013 10:25 PM    Report this comment

Response to Daniel Jozsep: Wishful thinking! Economies of scale didn't work after WW II and it's highly unlikely, given the LOW demand, about 1 in 1,400 of the population for GA, it ever will. Comparing the VOLUME demand for the automobile and light aircraft - out of the 1,400, how many of us have a "NEED" for the familty car?

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 12, 2013 11:31 PM    Report this comment

@Rod Beck,
That is not entirely true. Computers and cellphones are as cheap as they are today because of scale. Of course I see what you are saying, and you are right, GA is a small market.
The question is, could it expand again? It contracted as road travel got the upper hand, and as the prices of commercial flight dropped. Now we have new ways of efficient production in small to medium scale through computer aided manufacturing, a low consumption revolution in engines, and a general displeasure with the state of road traffic and of commercial flight. If the operating costs could be lowered through reduced fuel consumption and cheaper maintenance, I'm pretty sure demand could rise.

An interesting tidbit... I read an article in WSJ about the solar-powered flight around the globe planned by Bertrand Piccard and his team. Besides him being a total gentleman adventurer, the sort of whom was thought to be extinct since World War I, the article had an interesting passage.
The plane was made to order by a BOAT building company, after all aviation companies turned them down saying the parameters they are asking for are impossible. :) In the end the thing was completed, and it meets the requirements.
I'm just saying because people entrenched in an industry or profession tend to learn hard boundaries, and when new materials, manufacturing techniques, power sources, etc. are available, innovation needs thinking out of the box.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 13, 2013 3:53 AM    Report this comment

@Carl, I do appreciate innovators, and I do hope you'll succeed with some product, even if not this one.
Thinking of flying cars, I remembered all the magnificent inventions nobody ever wanted. :) The greatest mistake an innovator can make is not think about what is needed, and who would need or want it.
Would pilots want this flying soapbox? I doubt it. As people pointed out, too many compromises. Also, fly-by-wire has made inroads, see the entire Airbus fleet, but this level of automation is just ridiculous - and I'm saying this as a computer engineer. I'd let something like this fly a drone, but not my family.
Would drivers want it? I wouldn't bet on that. Too much money for too little car, and far too gimmicky to get public acceptance beyond the Google Glasses crowd in the valley.
Would regulators and the general public want to allow it? Bids are on "no way". An entirely new level of "dangerous", zipping around controlled by people totally uneducated in the basics of aviation... Even if the probability of a malfunction is low, without a human pilot trained for emergencies, the fallout would be shocking.
And then we haven't talked about noise and power.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 13, 2013 5:57 AM    Report this comment

An untrained pilot in any sort of mass production air vehicle is unrealistic in the medium term. If future air vehicles have a desirable combination of speed, utility and cost, people will be happy to submit to a training regime, just like we all did when we learned to drive.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 13, 2013 6:32 AM    Report this comment

Hi Dan - Again! Cell phones and computers - much LOWER ticket(price)items than a "Flying Car" will ever be - and mass production justified - simply the rule of supply and demand!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 13, 2013 8:08 AM    Report this comment

I don't have much experience with or knowledge of Gyrocopters but the roadable gyro concept seems a lot more workable given the small size of the wing when folded for transport. see for an example.

With that said, these guys have had a flying prototype for quite a while and still no product so I guess that tells us something: either it is too hard or they can't build a business model that works. It is still worth watching the prototype video.

I share Paul's healthy skepticism of companies that launch fanciful new products before they get the one that investors have paid for off the ground.

Lastly, I look forward to seeing what the folks at Pipistrel have up their sleeve.

Posted by: STEVE DUNBAR | May 14, 2013 12:07 AM    Report this comment

So, i guess the Carter Copter must be working fine with the DeltaHawk engine, huh? One wonders what folks involved in projects like these drive to work? Tuckers?

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | May 15, 2013 5:54 AM    Report this comment

Rod Becker: Bill Gates of Microsoft once commented that if Mercedes Benz were to do the same as computers it would be reduced in costs until you can sell it for $3.50. He neglects to say that the car wold fit on a pin head.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 15, 2013 7:20 AM    Report this comment

Rod, a computer cost something around the price of an AIRLINER in the 50s. Even in the 70s, nobody really believed that selling computers to the public would even make sense, let alone be possible.

I do not expect aviation to reach the same mass penetration as computing, the reason for that is not only economical, but psychological as well.
The fear of heights is one of our born instincts, and flight is something only a small percentage of humanity learns to love.

Then again, I'm sure there are many around who are potential customers for aircraft, providing an untapped market potential. I've never seen statistics, but I'm sure only a small percentage of private pilots actually own aircraft. Many fly only for the joy of it, a few hours a month at the best.

There are also many people who would have the "bone" to become pilots, but they haven't. They either think it's outside their reach, even if in reality it isn't, or they have the wish to fly, they just don't see it as a real benefit in their lives.

Since Ford's time, manufacturing has evolved greatly. You no longer need hundreds of workers, just some machinery, a supply chain and a few engineers. You can theoretically optimize production in small-scale too, viable for the aircraft industry.
Yet, most GA aircraft is built by hand like Rolls Royces and Bentleys, and cost just as much too. It doesn't really HAVE to be that way.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 15, 2013 8:02 AM    Report this comment

"The fear of heights is one of our born instincts, and flight is something only a small percentage of humanity learns to love."

Standing on the edge of a cliff indeed induces natural fear of an imminent fall to death -- sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft does by no way induce the same fear... and since mammals originated from water, swimming and diving are deeply rooted in our ADN -- hence, flying is almost like diving: no inborn fear there of a sudden fall to death...

It's amazing how certain persons manage to distort reality to exorcise their fear of game-changing novelties...

And, Daniel, how can you affirm that you and me are among a bunch of rare exceptions who use to have dreams of being able to fly -- go to a toy store and you'll see what most children are dreaming of...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 15, 2013 9:07 AM    Report this comment

Oscar, let's hope you are right. My experience is, about half the people I know are scared of the thought of flight, even if they need to sit in airliners on a regular basis.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 15, 2013 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Daniel Jozsef wrote, "Since Ford's time, manufacturing has evolved ... You no longer need hundreds of workers, just some machinery, a supply chain and a few engineers…."
True, but you need to know where that lesson applies and where it doesn't. It doesn't apply to general aviation airplanes. The free enterprise system is unlikely to reverse that. The numbers of units sold doesn't justify investing billions in "some machinery." Manufacturers have to stay solvent while selling 10-20 per year of some models. Tooling up to build waaay too many is not a good strategy for that. (Remember that although Ercoupes were built for decades, the majority of the existing flying fleet was built during a single year -- 1946, the year they naively hoped would begin the era of everyman's airplane.)
If I recall correctly, it takes about 2,000 worker-hours to build most small aircraft, and the number doesn't plummet like you'd hope when you go from rivets to carbon fiber. Multiply 2,000 by a number for worker-plus-overhead and you get the labor costs of the aircraft. I see something north of $200,000 for that number.
As much as anyone else, I'd like to see these circumstances change. But better minds than mine have tried and failed. Perhaps someone with courage, vision and lucky engineering will find a way to make aircraft safer, more appealing to the masses, and more affordable. So far, no one has succeeded, and it isn't for lack of trying. The facts are stubborn.

Posted by: John Schubert | May 15, 2013 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Sorry John don't agree. Markets work on supply and demand, if you keep the supply down (and consequently costly)the demand is assumed to be high and the selling price can be high. This has worked for the aviation industry as the authorities have ensured that there are enough regulations hampering manufacture and the costs are kept high. Who make up the majority of people in the FAA (CAA, EASA, etc) ex airforce personnel? Me thinks that says it all.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 15, 2013 11:39 AM    Report this comment

John Schubert recalls that the majority of Ercoupes was built during a single year -- 1946 (in fact over 4000 units!) -- yet did he ask himself why this boom ended so abruptly?

Seemingly not, as he further guesses that: "Perhaps someone (...) will find a way to make aircraft safer, (...) and more affordable. So far, no one has succeeded (...) The facts are stubborn."

John, do you realize that "The facts are stubborn" is just a pleonasm and no explanation?

Yet Bruce Savage has one: "... the authorities have ensured that there are enough regulations hampering manufacture...".

Does anyone remember what the acronym AGATE means?

About a decade ago, NASA's Big Boss congratulated the Oskosh experimental aircraft community for their dynamism and the vast diversity of designs, promising them to set up a scheme called Advanced General Aviation Transportation Experiment aimed at cutting by half the production cost of GA aircraft, as well as the cost of a PPL, while fostering the advent of "Free Flight", i.e. a virtual personal ad hoc skyway each private pilot would be able to follow per head-up display -- whereby the final E of the acronym may, alas, explain why AGATE is no more heard of...


Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 17, 2013 10:43 AM    Report this comment


Similarly, the ONERA (Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aerospatiales -- which is the French counter-part of the NASA), has recently stormed the media with an EU-founded (!) project proposing a pilotless electric four-seater taxi aircraft called PPlane (PrivatePlane) -- whereby the only serious feature happens to be its fully automated flight control, with all of the other design aspects obviously set to discredit the first one...

Here's a list of these incredibly odd features:

- Three tiny ventilators protruding by only half their diameter from the upper surface of either wing
- Ridiculously low aspect-ratio stubby wings (like Terrafugia's tilt-rotor!)
- Launching catapult (pretending electric aircraft cannot take off on their own!)
And, hold your breath...
- A narrow landing ramp (a few centimeters wide) incommensurably more difficult to land on than even on an aircraft-carrier deck...

And since the French experiment is announced to end after three years, there's the close similarity with the final E in AGATE...

Still believing in a market-dependent weakness of GA sales?

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 17, 2013 10:45 AM    Report this comment

I think the article about LSA and old Cessna 152s that was posted now-ish explains the way things are most clearly... :)
I still believe in a possible revival. People have been trying for decades, but we are on the verge of a revolution in manufacturing. 3d printing, and other high-precision, generic processes are coming of age, as communications and computing are creating a background capable of optimizing manufacturing in small scale as well.
20 years ago you had to roll out tens of thousands of units a year to start to optimize. Now you no longer need to do that. The billions mentioned above are now merely millions.
I continue to believe that the desire to fly, and the desire for a small, more accessible world is great enough in us to give aviation a new great age.

As for pilotless aircraft, not only do I think it's silly, I am entirely against it. The only way a vehicle should run without direct control from a TRAINED human is on a rail. (And even then, you need a control center staffed with trained humans.) Computers are very clever in controlled environments. In uncontrolled ones, I'd rather not rely on them.
(And besides, a plane without a pilot is like sex without love, or something.)

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 19, 2013 5:39 PM    Report this comment

Something to ponder.
If aircraft of the GA were cheap as motorcars how many would there be flying around? Now come the real issue what is to stop those people crossing borders to other countries as and when they want to. Forget about terrorists that is small fry compared to what will happen when there is mass movement of people to anywhere in the world without controls. This is what is frighting Governments more than anything around the world and then add the flying car to the mix and you have a real problem.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 20, 2013 7:02 AM    Report this comment

The market for aircraft was saturated by the end of 1946. We saw the same thing happen to the market for CB radios in 1977, for hula hoops in 1959, for automobiles in 2007, and for aircraft again in 1979.
I was not familiar with the Advanced General Aviation Transportation Experiment (AGATE). I bet there were some good ideas in it. Most good ideas never become good products, whether in aviation or any other field. It takes a lot of work to take an idea, make a working invention, and make a practical product that works as intended in the field.
I don't buy into the conspiracy theories that some have suggested. I don't think government overreach in the U.S. is that overt. I will say, as a manager who has gotten a lot of training in industrial psychology, that some people love rules and regulations, and those people get attracted to jobs in heavily regulated environments. So the personalities of the people involved push the activity into an even more heavily regulated culture. And every time someone does something stupid with an airplane, that reinforces the notion that aviation needs to be heavily regulated.

Posted by: John Schubert | May 20, 2013 9:27 AM    Report this comment

"The only way a vehicle should run without direct control from a TRAINED human is on a rail."

Daniel, Any IT-engineer will assure you that virtual electronic rails projected into the airspace will be followed by the autopilot of a PA from take-off to landing at least as safely as a train follows its rail-track -- so much the more since in the airspace there's neither need for level crossings nor for lining up behind each other...

"If aircraft of the GA were cheap as motorcars how many would there be flying around?"

Bruce, Despite GA aircraft (I prefer the term Personal Aircraft, i.e. the PA after the PC...) being likely to cost more than a motorcar, there will be as many of them in the longer run (plus all those yet to come of Russia, China, and India, let alone Africa) -- because the higher cost will be made up by a much longer product life since there are no rusting parts, as well as by the fact that PA will mainly be home-assembled.

"And every time someone does something stupid with an airplane, that reinforces the notion that aviation needs to be heavily regulated."

John, The autopilot of a pilotless VTOL-PA will indeed be subject to the heaviest regulations ever -- but, mind you, the occupant will indeed enjoy unprecedented freedom, not only to choose destination, but also to devote to whatever in-flight activity you may imagine (including inactivity, i.e. taking a rest or even a nap).

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 20, 2013 3:59 PM    Report this comment

@Oscar, I AM a software engineer, and am aware of what a computer is capable of. I know that modern transports could fly all the way from start to endpoint without human intervention, and maybe some would even be able to get IFR clearance by itself, and maybe play som chess on the side. :P
Still, there is a reason you have not one, but two pilots on a transport.

AI is extremely powerful today, if you control the environment fully (like in a simulated world, say a computer game), or mostly (like the London Underground).
In flight, and in road traffic, the question isn't whether the computer can safely drive or fly. It has been demonstrated that it can. The question is, do you want to take the risk.
And no, we do not.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 22, 2013 7:29 AM    Report this comment

(You should ask the traders at Knight Capital whether you should trust a computer to do your job for you. XD Computers are vastly superior traders to humans, in 99% of the time. In the remaining 1% however... And regulated markets ARE a fully observable environment, so the computer should have all the advantages.)

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 22, 2013 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Well said, Daniel. I don't trust computers that much, and you have beautifully articulated the reasons why.

On the more general question of a paradigm-busting airplane, I think of it this way: An affordable, technically advanced airplane is technically possible. However, right now it is not humanly possible.

This is not a reference to the flying car, which is mired in technical debates, but rather a reference to a far better version of, say, a Piper Cherokee. Roomier, faster, more advanced engine, more useful load, lower stall speed, etc etc etc at a fraction of what one now costs.

We have the technology to do all those things. We do not have the human infrastructure to make these things happen. We live in a world of supply-and-demand, government regulations, over promising by the marketing department, people taking short cuts, and so on.

There have been many noble failures in the quest to overcome these obstacles. (Ercoupe, Bede, Eclipse, etc.) Let's not underestimate what it would take to create a true success.

Posted by: John Schubert | May 22, 2013 8:12 AM    Report this comment

"The question is, do you want to take the risk. And no, we do not."

Daniel, I presume that by "we do not", you mean "we, the GA pilot community" -- and you're probably right.

However, I'm part of the much broader community of non-pilots deemed to become occupants of pilotless aircraft -- so, please, don't confiscate our opinion, as we may fully trust the computer simply because we don't know the odds and ends of piloting an aircraft (and will indeed not have to!)... and also because the technical instructions will inform us about the autopilot's triple computer system, about the triple redundancy of the satellite navigation system based on GPS, Glonass, and Galileo, and about anti-collision radar (with maybe soon insect-eye screen technology)...

By then, the virtual (electronic) structure of the airspace might comprise as many as 20 flight levels per kilometer altitude, allowing for parallel one-way headings every 20° or so per level -- combined with three dedicated layers ranging respectively from 0 to 4000m for non-pressurized electric VTOL ultra-lights, from 4000 to 8000m for turboprops, and from 8000 to 12000m for corporate jets and commercial airliners.

Helical ascending and descending ramps circling cities and other dense urban areas will indeed be way more complex than today's highway junctions -- but for sure ever so much less expensive and more flexible...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 23, 2013 11:10 AM    Report this comment

@Oscar, actually, I meant "we as the human race". Watch some Terminator, will ya. XD

Anyway, seriously. You MIGHT think that you want to "fly without being a pilot." I think what you REALLY want is "become a pilot without spending 10 grand."
The second is a noble goal to achieve for everyone, and will naturally result from cheaper flight... And I think the industry is taking steps in this direction, even if baby steps.

In the meantime, improving flight control, avionics and autopilots is an interesting and most promising field in aviation. But the computer is there to HELP the human, not to replace him.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 24, 2013 2:42 PM    Report this comment

This discussion is teasing out some assumptions. Oscar thinks electronic systems are way better than Daniel & I think they are. A counter example to Oscar's optimism is the Air France flight that pancaked into the ocean. Plenty of electronic wizardry, but the plane crashed because stuff messed up (if I recall correctly, it was the sensors, not the microprocessors, but the passengers died anyway).
I've discussed this with a couple jet pilots. That Airbus has no angle of attack indicator. The auto throttles change your power setting without moving the levers, so you don't have that visual indication of your power setting. In that electronic setting, the pilots are divorced from the seat-of-the-pants data that Bertorelli gets in his J3 Cub.
Additionally, I see other reasons to mistrust shortcuts. My experience is far from vast, but in my training I've experienced an engine running rough, an accidental spin entry, an air traffic controller putting me on a head-on collision course with departing traffic from the runway I was going to land on, and, yes, a few of my own dumb mistakes. Training teaches you to avoid most of these situations and have your head together to recover from them quickly and confidently. Done right, it changes your thinking about just about everything, and is well worth the ten grand. And when you feel firsthand how much the wind bats your plane up and down, you won't want an airspace system with another plane 50 meters on top of you.

Posted by: John Schubert | May 24, 2013 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Daniel, I just want to fly from A to B without having to worry how I'll have get to my final destination -- which IMHO is as noble as wanting to become a pilot...

And, John, if I were an IFR pilot, I would trust only fool-proof electronics -- yet since pilots are still in charge, electronics remain insufficiently redundant to be fool-proof, which deters me from buying an airline ticket...

AF447 officially crashed due to ice-obstructed drainage ducts of three Pitot probes -- yet several indications tend to denote that it has been brought down on purpose:

- According to C.B. "Sully" Sullivan, the second pilot kept the stick full back all the time, which is a typical reaction to a "death" spiral in zero visibility conditions -- with steadily increasing airspeed as the only abnormal perception to the pilot who tries to pull up to recover from what he believes to be a straight forward dive.


Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 26, 2013 5:09 PM    Report this comment


- American avionics equipping airbuses (as well as most other civil and military aircraft worldwide), are indeed likely to contain a hidden microcircuit which can be remotely triggered by a code to at least jeopardize vital aircraft functions -- and probably today even to disable the autopilot and take full authority over the flight controls in order to engage a slight rolling movement inducing a slide, which in turn, by the auto-stabilizing yaw effect of the rudder, induces a curve leading the aircraft into a death spiral. And why a death spiral: because with zero outside visibility, neither will there follow coherent pilot reaction, nor any comments, or coherent comments, on the CVR...

- The passenger list my give a clue as to whom the crime profited -- two critical passengers in this respect:

- Prince Pedro Luís of Orléans-Bragança, third in succession to the abolished throne of Brazil

- Pablo Dreyfus from Argentina, a campaigner for controlling illegal arms and the illegal drugs trade.

- One year before the crash, the French president Sarkozy made his first visit to Brazil -- most presumably to engage discussions on the sale of 33 French Rafale fighters to the Brazilian army...

Who had an interest to jeopardize (by killing a Brazilian prince) Sarkozy's Rafale sales efforts -- and to eliminate at the same time a key person in the illegal arms and drug scene?


Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 26, 2013 5:11 PM    Report this comment


Crossing the threshold to commit such a huge crime is likely to need several interested parties -- which in this case might have been both the U.S. industrial-military complex, and an unknown U.S. illegal arms and drugs lobby. But for sure, a third party never missing out on this kind of plot is to be seen in the airliner insurance and reinsurance companies, who are facing a major threat to their business, with fast moving cockpit automation likely to lead sooner or later to a near-zero crash situation, i.e., with no or almost no crashes entailing dramatically shrinking insurance premiums...

May I recall former federal aviation safety inspector Rodney Stich's book "History of Aviation Disasters: 1950 to 9/11", in which he denounces a long series of airliner crashes in the USA, caused by "the tranquility seeking FAA management", as he sees it? I think he is either naive, or complicit with the insurance lobbyists, who are the most likely to have bribed the FAA security inspectors to maintain a high level of airliner crashes -- or at least to halt the above mentioned trend towards near zero crashes/premiums...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 26, 2013 5:13 PM    Report this comment

@Oscar, I just don't get you. You want to sit in a pilotless airplane with someone 50 meters over and under you, and yet say you are deterred from buying an airline ticket - the SAFEST existing mode of transportation on Earth. And it's not foolproof electronics that makes it safe, but thousands of highly trained, dedicated professionals who live their lives flying or watching the skies.

Foolproof electronics DOES NOT EXIST. I'm saying that as a professional in the field. It's an illusion. Every layer of redundancy is just another false reassurance, making you THINK you are safe. Redundancy is important, but relying on it, believing it to be absolute, is the way to ruin.

As for not wanting to become a pilot... Well you can drive a car, right? I'm pretty sure you'll admit it's not exactly black magic. And ride a bicycle. And use a hammer or a screwdriver or a drill.
We humans are tool users. Learning to use a new tool is part of the joy of being human. :) I'm all for lowering entry barriers. Becoming passive drones is something I'm against. Not as part of any community, but as a spiritual, metaphysical human being.

And let me just not comment on your conspiracy theory here. This is not that forum.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 29, 2013 10:19 AM    Report this comment

@Oscar, I just don't get you. You want to sit in a pilotless airplane with someone 50 meters over and under you, and yet say you are deterred from buying an airline ticket - the SAFEST existing mode of transportation on Earth. And it's not foolproof electronics that makes it safe, but thousands of highly trained, dedicated professionals who live their lives flying or watching the skies.

Foolproof electronics DOES NOT EXIST. I'm saying that as a professional in the field. It's an illusion. Every layer of redundancy is just another false reassurance, making you THINK you are safe. Redundancy is important, but relying on it, believing it to be absolute, is the way to ruin.

As for not wanting to become a pilot... Well you can drive a car, right? I'm pretty sure you'll admit it's not exactly black magic. And ride a bicycle. And use a hammer or a screwdriver or a drill.
We humans are tool users. Learning to use a new tool is part of the joy of being human. :) I'm all for lowering entry barriers. Becoming passive drones is something I'm against. Not as part of any community, but as a spiritual, metaphysical human being.

And let me just not comment on your conspiracy theory here. This is not that forum.

Posted by: Daniel Jozsef | May 29, 2013 10:19 AM    Report this comment


"Redundancy is important, but relying on it, believing it to be absolute, is the way to ruin."

Driving my car, I rely on all other drivers for not bumping into me, yet it has happened twice (rear-end collision) -- and once I was lucky enough to be able to avoid a head-on collision threatening on my side of the road, by pulling sharply to the right up a slightly ascending snowy slope (instead of into a deadly wall) where I got stuck unharmed. So, after 20 (old) cars and 50 years of driving, I'm still alive (with zero accident!).

Nevertheless, given the ghastly death toll scored by road traffic worldwide, I do indeed not need to believe redundancy to be a warrant for absolute safety in order to feel vastly more secure in a pilotless aircraft than in my car...

"Well you can drive a car, right? I'm pretty sure you'll admit it's not exactly black magic."

Whereas, yes, flying in a pilotless aircraft may indeed seem like black magic to some -- and, BTW, do you feel like performing black magic at the controls of your aircraft? Fact is that driving a car requires your full attention every second if you want to preserve you life and that of others -- which is not exactly the case behind the stick of an aircraft, right?

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 29, 2013 5:03 PM    Report this comment


"Becoming passive drones is something I'm against."

There's something worse than passive man-carrying drones, e.g. airliners, with their passengers as passive as cattle (hence, I call them the flying human cattle-carriers) -- but tell me, David, since when did these ever so popular monsters wipe out your pilot-for-passion community? Try hard not to be just a reactionary!

As to conspiracy theory, you're right: this is not that forum -- and if this is so, it's because we do indeed not want to discuss in length a review of all conspiracies that happened in human history in order to derive a general theory from these events... That's what a conspiracy theory ought to be, right? With AF447, I'm just pointing to ONE case of possible conspiracy -- in medieval times you might have called me a sorcerer and I would have gone up in flames... Calling someone a conspiracy theorist today is much the same stigmatic labeling, though with admittedly no lethal consequences -- but it can lead to social exclusion, as it happened to me on HuffPost where I am still banned from commenting after posting a politically incorrect analysis of 9/11...


Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 29, 2013 5:06 PM    Report this comment


I could mention a long list of airliners susceptible to have been brought down on purpose -- yet in order to be able to follow me, you would need to have worked only half-time all your life, with the other half-time mostly spent speed-reading and cross-referencing newspapers in three major languages within a number of strictly selected key topics...

Which takes us back on topic: as long as flying cars alias pilotless personal VTOL aircraft will be equipped with American avionics, the Pentagon could bring down any of them at any time, even by the masses -- hence, only a global revolution triggered by a critical mass of home-built PAs, demonstrating the superiority of airborn over road-bound individual intercity mobility, can lead to the advent of massively popularized individual aeromobility.

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 29, 2013 5:07 PM    Report this comment


I could mention a long list of airliners susceptible to have been brought down on purpose -- yet in order to be able to follow me, you would need to have worked only half-time all your life, with the other half-time mostly spent speed-reading and cross-referencing newspapers in three major languages within a number of strictly selected key topics...

Which takes us back on topic: as long as flying cars alias pilotless personal VTOL aircraft will be equipped with American avionics, the Pentagon could bring down any of them at any time, even by the masses -- hence, only a global revolution triggered by a critical mass of home-built PAs, demonstrating the superiority of airborn over road-bound individual intercity mobility, can lead to the advent of massively popularized individual aeromobility.

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 29, 2013 5:12 PM    Report this comment

Well, now at it's clear where Oscar is "coming from."

Posted by: Steve King | May 30, 2013 2:56 AM    Report this comment

Daniel could I possibly ask you to put your thinking cap on and remember many years ago of a US government driven policy that all electronic equipment was to have a chip called CHICAGO inserted into it. Whatever happened to that policy. Maybe Oscar is right!

We were developing a security transmission device (stream cypher)for Banks in South Africa and were told we did not comply and had to have this software installed by the then South African Defense Force quoting a requirement from USA.

Interesting how the word conspiracy appears when in fact it should be lateral thinking. Conspiracy means to secretly plan to do something UNLAWFUL. We do not need conspirators but we do need lateral thinkers. Many time the lateral thinkers who do not agree with those who have terrible ideas are called conspirators in an attempt to try and criminalize those people.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 30, 2013 4:55 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, I may well ow you another reply to your former comment, i.e. to your statement therein: "Now come the real issue what is to stop those people crossing borders to other countries as and when they want to."

I guess that what probably haunts the U.S. tenants of power the most in connection with "flying cars" alias VTOL-ULE-aircraft, is to have to face a "Mexican" problem all along borders, especially the eastern, where myriads of flying invaders from Europe would threaten to trick out the NORAD ...

Now, honestly, could there be anything more promising to the U.S.A. than an invasion of European flying immigrants -- given that at least the first wave of these invaders would certainly have a much higher qualification level than the Mexicans?

And BTW, why did the U.S. Air Force renounce setting a historical doorstep-to-doorstep transatlantic flight record with their V22-Osprey -- if not out of fear of the Lindbergh-effect threatening to induce the above mentioned invasion?

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | May 30, 2013 5:38 AM    Report this comment

As a sometime sufferer of what I call "blurtigo", I found Oscar's posts becoming progressively more cringe-worthy. What's the old lawyer's maxim? "Think lots, say little, sign nothing." Despite that, there are definite precedents for some of what he is saying. In my realm of IT and telecoms, there is plenty of stuff that should be viewed with some healthy scepticism.

Oscar, despite the worrying trends of the last little while, our societies are still largely liberal democracies. If "personal aircraft" begin to make sense, they will become wildly popular and our governments will be forced to find ways to police their use. That policing will involve wise proactive measures, unwise reactive ones and everything in between. Ever shall it be thus.

Please don't carry on about this here.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 30, 2013 6:51 AM    Report this comment

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