Why Flying Cars Endure

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What is it about flying cars, anyway? You don't have to get too far into the back-of-the-napkin concept phase to reach the irreducible conclusion that the idea just isn't going to work. It's like combining a knife with a hammer—you end up with a tool that will barely do either function adequately, never mind well.

Yet the idea persists. Serious people throw good money at trying to meld these two transportation modes into a single vehicle, this despite the fact that the engineering challenges seem insurmountable, at least if you hope to make a flying car that has any hope of commercial success. Maybe that's the missing ingredient. Maybe the people pursuing these projects have no illusions of commercial practicality, they're just doing it for the entertainment value. And flying cars—or at least the idea of flying cars—is certainly entertaining. A couple of years ago at AirVenture, EAA sponsored a flying car exhibition offsite at a local Oshkosh drive-in. It was standing room only and the video we did of the event proved the most popular of the entire show.

My theory is that people who follow these projects don't have any real expectation that they'll succeed, they just enjoy watching other people attempt the impossible. At this year's AirVenture, I got a good look at Trey Johnson's take on the flying car. Here's a video on it. He's inverted the solution; instead of a flying car, he's developed a roadable airplane. Although I'm not convinced this has market legs, it's at least less wacky than trying to make a bad, lightly built and too-small car fly. Johnson's PlaneDriven idea uses a removable motive pod adapted from a motorcycle powertrain, thus it may be more grounded in reality because it's really just an iteration of road towing a glider or power aircraft, something that's done all the time.

Unfortunately, the engineering challenges of pulling this off mean that the airplane—in this case a Glasair Sportsman—has to be more transformer than either airplane or car. Converting from flight requires dragging the 420-pound power pod from the baggage compartment on a ramp, attaching it to the tail, stowing the wings, jacking the suspension down and rigging up turn signals and controls. Wouldn't it be easier to say, just call a cab? (I know, I'm not missing the point, I'm just refusing to recognize it.) Johnson says this transition takes about an hour now, but the company would like to get it down to 10 minutes. I'm not sure I see how that's possible, given the mechanical complexity of the design.

There are other flying car projects and the fact that one comes from China demonstrates that this affliction isn't an American cultural thing. A Chinese-based company called ML Aviation wants to produce a flying car based on a gyrocopter concept. The blades fold and fasten to the aircraft's boom-type tail. It has two engines, a Rotax for flying and a rotary for driving. Since unbridled optimism is a prerequisite for flying car developers, ML says its version will be ready for sale next year sometime. A guy named Molt Taylor probably said the same thing at one time or another.

Not that I'm cynical about any of this, mind you. I'm just as willing to entertained as the next guy.

Comments (76)

The folding bike in a real airplane is a much better concept than the flying car.... And for those with a bit more $$, there is always the 747 Combi with a Maybach in the belly.

Posted by: ROBERT ZIEGLER | August 20, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

My observation over the years is that each of these attempts has resulted in a combination of a bad airplane and a bad automobile, neither of which is very suitable for its purpose and yet extraordinarily expensive compared to its non-hybrid brethren. Call me cynical, but the dream of such things ever succeeding resides mostly in the minds of Hollywood script writers.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | August 20, 2012 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Good article. Brings some sanity to the issue.

I started flying back in the mid-60's and remember well all the promises of flying cars since then, none of which have come true.

Just because they can build them doesn't mean they should.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | August 20, 2012 9:16 AM    Report this comment

Yea but wouldn't it be great, if you are stuck in rush hour traffic to be able to go airborne. lol.

Posted by: Thomas Autrey | August 20, 2012 9:19 AM    Report this comment

I think its a problem of priority. The goal of a fast aircraft that can also drive on the road is very challenging. But if you recast the problem to create a dune buggy that can hop over the occasional impassable area you get what i-tec has done with the maverick (www.mavericklsa.com). It's a specific solution to a specific need. I don't know how well it really works but it sure looks more realistic.

Posted by: neil cormia | August 20, 2012 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Paul, great topic! I too wonder about the practicality of this engineering challenge becoming a practical (and affordable) car-aircraft (aircraft-car?) for anyone other than the rich who need another 'toy'.
That said, I'm surprised you didn't at least mention the S-LSA contender: Terrafugia. Why not?

Posted by: Richard Norris | August 20, 2012 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Because we spilled more than enough ink on Terrafugia for now. I thought it fair to cast the bright light on reality on something else for a change.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 20, 2012 9:45 AM    Report this comment

This is the one that I am (not very hopeful) watching:
I'd certainly get one of those! :)

Posted by: ENRIQUE TROCONIS | August 20, 2012 10:00 AM    Report this comment

It's just so tempting a problem to solve. Next, you forget you are trying to drain the swamp (adding convenience to traveling) and build some contraption that kills alligators (converts from plane to car slower than a trip thru the rental counter).

We love flight, and we love the freedom to go places. We also hate having to plan around ground transportation and weather issues. A flying car is the ultimate airplane for the guy who wants to fly more.

Also, given the number of badly designed and outdated planes still in use today, we pilots must have a lot of forgiveness for mechanical shortcomings. Personally, I can't figure out who enjoys flying a plane with cable controls having flown planes with rcontrol ods, but it's better than no plane at all I suppose.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 20, 2012 10:08 AM    Report this comment

When I was a kid, I took the basket off a shopping cart and installed a motor on the chassis, changed the wheels and installed a seat. I drove this silly contraption for many miles without a problem. A flying car is even sillier, but if you want to solve this non-problem, it would make much more sense to have a detachable vehicle like a motorcycle/trike and leave the wings, tail, etc. at the airport. Yes, you have to go back to the same airport, but at least you don't have to look ridiculous driving an airplane! Take a taxi for goodness sakes.

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | August 20, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Say, the old folks down here in Florida drive those motorized shopping carts in the supermarket. Hope you get royalties.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 20, 2012 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Like every "flying for the masses" idea since 1945, a technically interesting joke. Flying will never be for the masses. The masses don't even want it!

Posted by: PAUL DE ZAN | August 20, 2012 11:51 AM    Report this comment

$260,000 for the roadable Sportsman. Hmmmmm. How about for $150,000 I'll sell you my old 182 and four decent used cars to leave at four airports? Will be cheaper to insure, and have more payload!

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | August 20, 2012 12:33 PM    Report this comment

'...unbridled optimism...'

LOL - wonder what you were really thinking...

We need an oddsmaker to set the betting on which manifests first - a workable flying car or roadable airplane for non-millionaires, robotic mining of minerals on asteroids, or an asteroid striking Earth. My money's on the latter, hidden in my fallout shelter.

Posted by: David Miller | August 20, 2012 1:01 PM    Report this comment

David's on the right track ... for that kind of money, just buy a good, used, practical plane along the 152/172/182 line and you could easily afford some aiport cars to leave where you usually need them. Heck, if you bought an old 152, you could probably afford to buy a used car at every stop where you couldn't get a free courtesy car and abandon it when you left!

Posted by: JOHN AUSTIN | August 20, 2012 1:22 PM    Report this comment

I've often thought a flying motorcycle would make sense and given Paul Poberezny's love of motorcycles I'm surprised we never saw one. Leave the wings and airframe behind and just uncouple the bike and zoom away. Plus, the acceleration of the two complement each other, planes accelerate slowly while bikes start off fast and using both engines would make a very short takeoff indeed.

Added benefit: biking at altitude results in fewer bugs in the teeth!

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | August 20, 2012 1:25 PM    Report this comment

Well Darryl, you can have your flying motorcycle sooner than you may think. www.samsonsky.com, check it out.
Paul, join the 21st century. All the ingrediants are available for creating a multi-mode vehicle. Light weight materials (carbon fiber) light weight, high horsepower engines, and most of all the computer software that allows engineers to "fly" before spending millions building to find out it doesn't work. The biggest obstacle yet, funding the project. It will work at some point. It is much easier to give up and say it won't work than to continue experimenting and find a solution. If the Wright brothers had given up we might be still taking trains instead of flying jets.

Posted by: Don Campbell | August 20, 2012 1:56 PM    Report this comment

If the problem is how to travel point-to-point in the same vehicle, we have a solution that has been around for years. It's called a helicopter.

Posted by: James Beaver | August 20, 2012 2:38 PM    Report this comment

Helicopters don't fly, the earth repels them.

Posted by: Darryl Phillips | August 20, 2012 2:47 PM    Report this comment

Good comments Don, well said. It boggles my mind that there are still people who find the idea of creating a multi-mode vehicle to be that complicated. With enough money and the right talent and imagination, almost anything is possible. The engineers of the world have long proven that. I've heard it said that if you stood on a street corner and offered to sell gold bars for a dollar, there would be plenty of people going by that would not believe it. Albert Einstein once said "There will always be an endless number of reasons why a new idea will not work. To be successful, you must try it anyway."

Posted by: Larry Moore | August 20, 2012 2:51 PM    Report this comment

A few straw man arguments and other fallacies that always seem to come up ought to be addressed.

1. Roadable cars are not for the masses. They are for people who just want one, or people for won their unique capabilities have value. You know, LIKE YOUR AIRPLANE.

2. Will never be a better deal than a Cessna. Really? Never? Could we start pulling tickets from people so ignorant as to join the never happen crowd? If you are that willingly stupid, please fly alone over large bodies of water or desert where you aren't likely to hurt anyone.

3. Just land and get a car. Have you tried this lately? Crew cars are rare beasts. As the population of pilots falls, they get more rare rentals aren't even available a lot of places anymore.

4. And, my general comment against anti innovation comments in general - shut up and wake up. Anyone wanting to invest in GA shouldn't have to hear it. If they aren't doing something dangerous to others then support them, or leave them alone. I remember all the crap about Diamond, and it still comes aound, but they have made a better safer plane. If you like what you have, great, don't act like the people who think you are an idiot for enjoying GA.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 20, 2012 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Ever mindful and desirous as I am of not being stuck here in the 20th century, I note that the Samson Switchblade promoters have that most crucial quality of the would-be flying ground vehicle builder: unbounded enthusiasm. Why, there's even a tab on the web page for fleet orders. That's confidence, I tell you!

They claim 200 MPH in cruise--basically Cirrus performance. Tall order. I wouldn't be a customer, though. Before you see my pink cheeks on a trike, hell will have frozen over, the earth will have flipped on its axis and the first McDonalds will have opened on Mars.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 20, 2012 4:32 PM    Report this comment

Seems to me we've had this discussion before; not too long ago. Anyway the scientist (who ever THEY are and don't ask me I don't know anything) are about to release an anti-gravity engine. The craft that it will be fitted to can take-off/land vertically. Now that would be interesting to me. Why drive when you simply fly point to point.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 20, 2012 4:57 PM    Report this comment


Probably because journalists in the press keep publishing stories on them, I guess. They would not endure at all if the press only reported successes.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 20, 2012 5:21 PM    Report this comment

The basic problem with a flying car or roadable airplane (semantics, really) is simple: there are parts each one requires that merely take up space and weight to no good purpose on the other. A car needs to be heavier than an airplane's fuselage in order to carry people and cargo in reasonable comfort and safety. An airplane has wings and tailplanes that are just dead weight on a car. They fight each other.

Then there's the difference in controls. Sure, you can have drive/fly-by-wire, but that just adds more cost and complexity and weight.

No amount of engineering will overcome basic facts.

Yeah, I'd love to replace my Subaru with a Transition, but it won't handle the same missions and would be hideously expensive to have and maintain. Not gonna happen.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | August 20, 2012 5:51 PM    Report this comment

And, my general comment against anti innovation comments in general - shut up and wake up>

That would be funny if there were anti innovation comments here, but there aren't any. The flying car will end up for the car elevator, wealthy 1% types, who will be willing to drive their new, fragile, expensive toy on roads they would hesitate to drive their Audi on. What's that saying, more money than...?

The flying car and amphicar have been around for decades. Where are all of the amphicars in the lakes across the country? If they were popular and practical, we would never get caught in a flooded wash - presto! Did you bring that fishing pole, Rob? Or, darn, more lost revenue from the Stupid Motorist Law - the guy had an amphicar!!

Q Branch, are you listening?

Posted by: David Miller | August 20, 2012 7:40 PM    Report this comment

Flying cars are not for everybody. There is adventure in flying, which any pilot can talk about. It enters into your soul with your first solo flight. You guys remember that day?

With a flying car, there is a bit more adventure. This is because you can fly into areas you otherwise dare not for fear of being caught by weather. Say (often foggy) San Francisco. Helicopters are great at point-to-point, but don't solve the weather problem. Going where you want, when you want, is an awesome thing.

The technical questions on flying cars are relatively moot, as it has already been done. Molt Taylor did it in the late 1950's, and had it certified through the FAA. Not the most aesthetic machine (I think the Switchblade has the edge). Our Switchblade ground prototype was tested at MGTOW and outperformed a Jaguar XK8. It has proven as nimble as a sports car. We have cross checked the professional aero engineering by building a computer model of the Switchblade in X-Plane. Even the author of X-plane, once he saw how we took off and landed like a B-52, shed his doubt about our vehicle.

The main thing I would like to say is that pilots are a rare group. You look at the magazine coverage of aviation, and generally you find honest interest in things both new and old. I would like your help to keep it that way. We are all pilots, love flying, and hopefully want to help aviation grow. Our choice of vehicle may be different, but our love of flying is the same.

Posted by: Sam Bousfield | August 20, 2012 8:08 PM    Report this comment


First, I had no intention towards humor. I am quite serious, and it's a life and death issue as innovation can make flying safer. Furthermore, let me use your own remarks to show what I say are anti innovation remarks.

Your second paragraph is a message on how the roadable cars will only be for economically successful people which you seem to be denigrating. So, is the message that you will hate and deride a roadable car manufacturer because his product isn't for average people? How much of the world population can afford a new Cessna? 1%?

Do you not think this might discourage a wannabe innovator who thinks he can build a roadable plane? Do you not think the first roadable planes are likely going to be very expensive? Know about the first cars? What's the object of your argument?

Your last paragraph asks a useless question. Who cares where all the amphicars are? Let people build, sell, and build what they want. Why would you say all this? Stop judging for Pete's sake. You seem unaware of all the people who have similar comments about GA. How helpful do you think those comments are to GA? They are killing us.

I would prefer that we all keep our critiques specific and constructive with any new company and give them all a chance. Call them out on their claims or sketchiness, but let's stop the general negativity on anything new. Otherwise, we will continue to watch GA shrink while less and less people want to buy the same old planes and engines.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 20, 2012 9:15 PM    Report this comment

The flying car idea peaked about the late '50s when all the major auto manufacturers contributed to the “frenzy” by making cars with “fins”, and bumpers resembling jet intakes and exhausts.

My idea of a “flying car” was that 1957 Plymouth Fury ... all black ... push-button transmission ... white naugahyde interior ... coke-bottle green tinted windows ... yeah, baby! 

Posted by: Phil Derosier | August 21, 2012 12:37 AM    Report this comment


Thanks for clearing up the humor question ...

The rest of your critique of my post is so preposterous I don't have any words, so I will politely say, everyone makes their own reality, and suggest you take great comfort in the fact that your reality is certainly not my reality. And I will not take comfort in the possibility that you are of voting age.

Posted by: David Miller | August 21, 2012 12:43 AM    Report this comment

"4. And, my general comment against anti innovation comments in general - shut up and wake up."

Does the name Jim Bede mean anythin' to ya?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 21, 2012 4:44 AM    Report this comment

I think the main reason for flying car stories is winter. Winter flying car stories are the equivalent of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. In order to get people to read articles about flying at times when the interest in the subject is low, publishers will put out articles showing pictures of titillating, outlandish, and ultimately unobtainable aircraft that have no practical use in the real world; kind of like the models in SI. Nice to look at, but totally impractical, and the upkeep will probably bankrupt you.

Posted by: James Freal | August 21, 2012 6:07 AM    Report this comment

Ah, but the real entertainment comes when they try to get these devices registered for the road -- especially in a place like France where even kit-cars are frowned upon.
You could make a TV show (only screened after 9.00pm) out of it.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | August 21, 2012 8:07 AM    Report this comment

Fair warning... I'm associated with MotoPOD LLC. But, commercial interest aside, this is a topic which I’m very involved in and I’d like to share how I get around.

My airplane is equipped with a motorcycle loading system that allows me to load and secure a street-legal motorcycle. A built-in winch system does all the heavy work and welded aluminum fixtures guide the motorcycle in/out of a Piper PA-32/34 airplane. A second variation; a removable belly pod, allows a 225cc motorcycle to be carried beneath an RV-10 or Cirrus.

After landing, it takes as little as 90 seconds to remove the motorcycle, unfold the handlebars and ride away on a two-place, highway performing motorcycle. With ground transportation at every airport, it’s easy to visit new places, explore destinations and travel from door-to-door.

I can say from experience that integrated air + ground transportation can fundamentally change our flying habits. There's simply more places to go and things to do with our airplanes. I'd like to think that roadable aircraft will be an important part of our future. However, they have a long way to go before they approach the price and performance of our conventional air and ground vehicles. In the meantime, MotoPOD LLC is working very hard to provide pilots with practical solutions for today’s airplanes.

Posted by: David Shelton | August 21, 2012 6:56 PM    Report this comment

I am all for pointing out and denouncing those who are practicing fraudulent business or selling unsafe or poor quality products. That's not the same as deriding new tech without evidence, which gets done all the time. I doubt you have avoided all the naysayers on "plastic" planes, BRS, single engine jets, or friction welding. Much of the time it's some Luddite preaching how there is nothing wrong with his favorite model, and nothing new will ever be better, but a lot of the time it's outright derogatory.

These attitudes actually do scare off capital from GA, and they also make it harder to succeed. Someone with a new engine is facing an uphill climb even if his product is 20% better or more than the similar Ly-Con. Do we need to pile on and make comments online about how stupid a buyer would be to anything other than a Lycoming or Continental?

Let's say Terrafugia succeeds. Won't that be great for GA? Don't we want them to succeed? Who are they hurting? (yes, I know no one on this thread has specifically gone after them, but there have been plenty of comments elsewhere.

Thanks for the ad hominem reply. I now know I was right.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 21, 2012 7:35 PM    Report this comment

Very True, the idea of flying cars seems CRAZY, especially because of the two engineering differences. But what if a company like Terrafugia succeeds on marrying these two? All they are doing is designing, implementing the missing pieces to make this happen. Common guys this isn't the 60's, we just landed in Mars a week ago, technology is amazing right now and it wont be long before the flying car is available to general consumer. Call me an optimist, but hey! I guess that is why I own a page called the Flying Car Planet! lol lol were on facebook. Good article guys!

Posted by: Jason Rodriguez | August 22, 2012 9:09 AM    Report this comment

The Terrafugia is going to be fun, especially when the first one's wings are dinged by some clown in an adjacent parking space opening up the door on his F-150.

But I want to see the dreamers keep on trying.

Posted by: Stephanie Belser | August 22, 2012 10:24 AM    Report this comment

The flying car hardly seems crazy. Molt Taylor built the proof of concept in the fifties. With modern technology it is very doable. I'd be surprised if Terrafugia doesn't make a good one if the money holds out. The problem is marketing. Are there enough customers out there to whom this is the thing they really want and can afford?

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 22, 2012 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Stephanie provided an example.

Sarcasm shows that the terrafugia is a stupid idea while simultaneously sniping at owners of pick ups.

Would it have been so hard to stop a second, think about the fact that those guys at terrafugia are working hard to improve aviation, and maybe be more constructive?

If you are pro GA, you say something more like: "I worry that parking lots will be a challenge for terrafugia. What's to prevent small accidents from becoming big problems?"

I am saying we can have discussions about innovations in GA without being so negative and closed minded that potential problem solvers don't quit before they start. We have to change this aspect of our community or watch it continue to shrink while flying gets more expensive and less fun. And yes, even if you keep the same old 172, this result is happening to you. Less airports, more expensive everything's, less two hundred dollar burger locations, more airspace restrictions, etc.

Or, keep it up if it's working for you.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 22, 2012 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Sensible comments from Stephanie and Richard. This is exactly what keeps this idea a novelty. No one on this blog has even remotely suggested innovation and dreaming should stop.

We are in a time of technological wonderment, where a 15K glass panel is marketed and sold to fair weather pilots regardless of its necessity. The marketing for FC/RA will have to be even more over the top, and will be interesting to watch.

The continued viability of GA to some seems to lie with the success of manufacturers of these toys - including 140K LSA's - with basically unnecessary components that tantalize and excite. It's profit or die with them. Without consideration of the realities beyond the prototype, it's all entertainment to me, and whether concepts like a flying car will help or hurt GA, no one can predict.

Enjoy the show, grab some popcorn, but it's the people who will keep GA viable, not the lady with a beard or the dog trapeze act. And for years we have been losing people, infastructure and acceptance for our passion of flight.

Posted by: David Miller | August 22, 2012 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Just live the dream! Believe, believe, believe... If you don't believe that it can happen, it won't happen. If you do belive, it might! Remember, the curse of the 'danes (as in Mun-danes, "People that couldn't imagine landing on the moon, even AFTER it happened"), they are forever earthbound.

Posted by: Charles Patten | August 22, 2012 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Of course everyone here believes it can be done, it has been done. It will be done better in the future. But will it sell? That's what we're talking about. Probably in an ideal world every one of us would love to have one, I certainly would. In the real world of choices, costs, other options is there a viable market? Who is the customer, not just someone who would love to have one but the person who can and will lay down the money? Is anyone here seriously considering buying one at the probable price point? Is anyone here investing in a flying car project?

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 22, 2012 1:17 PM    Report this comment

FYI, Paul, your comment, "Before you see my pink cheeks on a trike, hell will have frozen over," may have missed its target a bit. Trikes (in my experience)are most often Rogallo-type hard-swivel, bar-controlled deltas (or such evolved airfoils) on an open trike frame. Samson's an enclosed swing-wing (a la B1)with tri-gear auto undercarriage. Maverick (which has flown) is more of a dune buggy supported by a 'chute.
So I'm missing the point: is it open cockpit (a la Breezy)or "non-standard" wings you're averse to?

Posted by: Wash Phillips | August 22, 2012 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Hey, you can buy a lousy land vehicle and a lousy aircraft in one easy transaction. What's not to like.

Posted by: John Wilson | August 22, 2012 3:55 PM    Report this comment

With respect to “Flying Cars” it is interesting to note that the question appears to be “Can it be done”. I think a more appropriate question would be “What can be done”. I am convinced that with available funding and enthusiasm a single vehicle can be designed and constructed which can move by own power with one occupant from home garage to an airport, take off with very limited utility with respect to net load, fly in the air a limited distance, land at another airport and finish off by driving a short distance to final destination. However, the economic efficacy of such transportation would most likely not be very attractive. If we are really looking for multiple vehicles with the utility and net load carrying capacity of a single engine Cessna and the comfort and economy of a middle sized car that can “jump across traffic pile ups” we will probably have to invoke “Batmobile Technology”, tear down and redesign our infrastructure, rebuild the FAA as well as the highway code. I am sure some of our heroic political representatives would support such activity. The “alphabet organizations” would definitely be in support as this would represent a potential new and innovative source of revenue to finance junkets and various aspects of “social representation

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | August 22, 2012 4:03 PM    Report this comment

Will it sell is really part of can it be done, isn't it? I mean, something marketable must be made to make a profit. Semantics I guess.

Anyway, I see no reason to go for more than two seats at first. They sell plenty of Miatas after all. Also, if the back seat is for kids you will need some history before you can find enough people wanting to fill the back seats. Step two could be a one front pilot, two back seat passenger taxi.

I am just getting back to the point I made earlier. If you define a flying car as a flying Camry then you can say it can't reasonably be done today. You can also sit smugly behind the knowledge that you have assigned a moving target in case you are proven wrong next year when the Camry is larger, safer, and faster. But why do that?

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 22, 2012 4:54 PM    Report this comment

Paul De Zan is the only one to touch on my thought that maybe we're asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of "can it be done" we should be asking "should it be done". Given the number of pilot error accidents we have already, just imagine our airspace looking like the LA freeways, full of the idiots who seem unable to manage their cars in two dimensions. I'm old enough to remember the Popular Mechanics articles predicting a flying car in every garage. Now that I'm a pilot, that seems to be a scary thought. At least the high price should prevent that from happening.

Posted by: John Worsley | August 22, 2012 7:01 PM    Report this comment

The flying car is a fantasy that is really all about lack of money. Someone with a vivid imagination and short of funds figures if only his airplane could become a car at his destination airport he could save the cost of a taxi or car rental to get to his final destination.

If he gives this serious number crunching he would discover the increased cost of his transformer would pay for enough taxis and car rentals to go to the moon. From the other point of view he would have to build his transformer for a tiny increment in his airplane price. His dreaming has to skip this consideration of engineering reality to be carried beyond the remote fantasy stage.

Anyone who really wants to make a fortune from this kind of (non)thinking can do so. All he needs to do is become a video producer. Then he can do anything and make pictures of it so his millions of paying customers (at theater ticket prices) can enjoy the fantasy.

For actual travel it is painfully obvious that the model of flying first class on an airliner and continuing with a rental car, taxi, or limousine will be less expensive than the hoped for (free) combo machine so you can do it yourself without paying any premium.

I'm all for dreaming and also for engineering new stuff. I wonder why people go down this particular path so frequently without real thought. This one is a turkey. (Indeed a turkey is a better deal since you can turn it into a nice meal when you get tired of considering it a pet.)

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | August 23, 2012 6:11 AM    Report this comment

For those who try to justify this fantasy machine need by a shortage of rental cars at their destination airport I have some real world practical advice.

Instead of targeting the local no-service airport for your trip go to the nearest regional airport. You will find rental cars, taxis, restaurants, hotels, and all the other things money can buy to make your trip more comfortable.

If you can't afford a rental car at your destination airport you can't afford to take the trip.

If you really need to visit someone or some tourist trap that is more than practical driving distance from the nearest regional airport you can probably find a way to get your destination to come to you with ground transportation. If they want you to get there they will make sure the trip can be made in a practical fashion.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | August 23, 2012 6:21 AM    Report this comment

"So I'm missing the point: is it open cockpit (a la Breezy)or "non-standard" wings you're averse to?"

No, a motorcycle thing. I see the Switchblade as a flying motorcycle, not a flying car. Although I suppose it could be either or both. I have agreements with multiple motorcycle riding friends. If they see me on a trike, they're authorized to shoot me on sight.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 23, 2012 6:50 AM    Report this comment

Eric, your notion that we should all join hands and dance down the Yellow Brick Road because we want everyone to succeed to encourage innovation is honorable. But also problematical and a dilemma.

Remember when Eclipse showed up at Oshkosh with the single-engine 400? Highly innovative and a real looker. A few months later, I got a tortured e-mail from a subscriber who had placed a $400,000 deposit down for a 400 position. A week later, Eclipse was bankrupt and he never saw his money again.

Why, he beseeched me, had we not reported that Eclipse was in trouble and about to slide under? We had, in fact, reported the numerous problems the company was having with the 500 program, that it was running short of cash and that it had all sorts of production issues.

Any reader paying the slightest attention would have read between the lines and not gone near that 400 with anything remotely like money. But this guy didn't heed that, nor did a number of other would-be owners.

The point is, as journalists, we aren't constrained to be a cheering section for every idea that comes down the chute. To do so, would be malpractice. As it is, we pull punches a lot and often don't report things we might know or suspect.

When some people get near airplanes, their brains turn to mush. They lose all ability to think critically. We all want everyone to succeed, everything is wonderful, nothing is a bad idea or not likely to succeed.

Someone has to stand back and say....hey, wait a minute.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 23, 2012 7:02 AM    Report this comment

There is plenty of room, if not a crying need, for aviation writers who will say that "hey, this idea doesn't make much sense" and publishers who will print it.

If you want a corollary, look at the gun press. Almost every active shooter of my acquaintance knows which publications will print glowing reviews from major advertisers (brand "K") and which won't. One magazine operates like "Consumer Reports"; they'll buy samples, test them and report what they find, warts and all.

When we think about how much stuff costs in aviation, from hand-held GPSs to aircraft, consumers (us) need places to go that aren't industry PR regurgitators.

Yes, I hope that the Terrafugia and the roadable Glastar all succeed. But being blind to the reality of the difficulties and tradeoffs necessary to make a car fly (or an airplane roadable) helps nobody.

(After all, guys, how many amphibious cars or roadable boats do you see these days? The market for those would be a lot larger.)

Posted by: Stephanie Belser | August 23, 2012 8:03 AM    Report this comment

Paul: Regarding your last comment AMEN! I don't want anyone to think I'm being 'negative' on this issue, but I like to be realistic. If someone wants to dream about it and/or try new, creative ideas - great! However, when they start drawing in others with promises not based on facts and asking for money or selling marginal products, then I am concerned - whether it is a flying car, airplane-car, S-LSA, or other flying contraption.

When it comes to aviation (and other products) all to often you need to keep in mind: Buyer (investor) beware!

Posted by: Richard Norris | August 23, 2012 8:05 AM    Report this comment

Put two long planks on a box structure with a motor in it and it will fly preposterous. If GOD wanted us to fly He would have given us wings. Man will never fly like a bird. Those were the word uttered before the Wright Brothers and their flying machine.
Einstein refused to believe that a contraption with four wheels and a device to propel this thing along (automobiles) could ever exist.
I wonder, if the internet was public in those days, would the Wright brothers build the aircraft? What type of opposition did they encounter anyway?

Now why can't a car fly??

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 23, 2012 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Paul M,
Many, if not most, of the hours flown by SE piston planes is by small business to save time. Having to fly some place else to get a car can make a trip a lot longer in the western two thirds of the country. For leisure travel, a destination can become undesirable due to time or cost considerations.

These factors, along with weather, are precisely the point. If you don't mind them, good for you. As someone who sold planes, I think enough people will pay double the cost of a comparable plane to have an easily convertible version so they don't have to bother with ground transport issues.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 23, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

Eric, I'm sure you are correct. Alas, are there enough people willing to pay $300,000 for a plane that is slower and less comfortable than a C-150 and that is equally uncomfortable to drive?

If there is a regular business destination that has unacceptable local transportation it would be a lot more practical to station a car there than to fly it there each time you want to visit.

The military likes to fly their ground transportation to the destination. They use C-130s to fly Humvees and armored personnel carriers armed with big guns to haul the soldiers the last few miles. For them cost is no object since they are spending other people's money. For a small business person cost is a big factor. For large businesses, the small local airport just won't handle their multi-engine jets. Either one can drive the whole trip, so the notion of flying a small single engine airplane to such a destination just doesn't work.

I still think the really strong advocates for a flying car are people who think they will save money with such a contraption. For them there is no hope.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | August 23, 2012 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Paul B,

Except for your characterization of what I am saying I agree with you totally. I am not at all saying we should drink any Kool Aid. Also, I am not really aiming at you journalists, it's us aviators I am trying to change. You write to a standard, and good journalists really don't do what I am complaining about if they remember that their words are forever in the web.

You certainly can point out a company taking deposits is risky if you actually have a good reason to say it. IMO, taking non escrow aircraft deposits is a good sign of financial weakness in itself.

Here is the thing though, when someone in the eighties says, "Plastic planes are worthless scrap," they aren't pointing out the limitations of a certain Beech twin. They are aiding and abetting the FAA pushing composite plane innovation off 20 years. They are hurting the business of Lancair and Glasair then and Diamond and Cirrus later! What if Dr. Dries sees all these comments and gets discouraged? Do we not get the DA40?

Commenting on a particular thing and taking a broad swipe at a whole tech are two different things.

Be constructive about technology and fair about company issues. Sure, that one guy has been scamming for decades, tell everybody! Just don't make a generalization that may already be false. Somebody's hangar may already have he prototype ready to fly and looking for investors.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 23, 2012 10:41 AM    Report this comment

Paul M,
Stationing a car is a good solution when mission appropriate. Just like using a C130.

There are plenty of people for whom the money is not the issue.

BTW, flying first class and driving is much cheaper than plane ownership for almost all people, so thank God it's not all about the money.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 23, 2012 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Eric, Thank you for agreeing with me on the flying first class point. Perhaps this is different in a country such as China where aviation is on the up-swing along with the general economy. In the USA where both aviation and the economy are stagnant at best I just don't see much justification for light plane use in business at all.

Today in the USA light plane use is mostly a hobby rather than a justified business activity. I certainly fly out of love for the activity rather than any kind of financial justification.

I just can't imagine a location where a small business flier would want to go where there were no rental cars at all. Even if the airport is devoid of rentals the rental car companies are all happy to deliver a car anywhere there is a paying customer. It might require a little planning, but pilots are supposed to do that for each flight anyway.

Flying cars are an idea looking for justification. The fact that the technology is out of reach isn't the only problem. Maybe some day when we have free fuel and vertical take off aircraft the situation will be completely different. That is the kind of environment that belongs in the back rooms of NASA where the "Experts" all put funny weeds in their pipes.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | August 23, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Real innovation in GA is a good thing. By real, I mean that it is based on sound physics, is attainable in a reasonable development schedule, provides a significant, attractive benefit to the owner, is adequately funded, provides a fair return to investors at a price that will sell, and is managed by a competent development/business team.

These are all essential ingredients. I am not anti-innovation if I point out that every new aircraft failure can be ascribed to the lack of one or more of these.

Those of us familiar with successful airplane development are disheartened by the time and money wasted by startups with clearly unworkable schemes and/or ideas that provide marginal benefit to the customer. Similarly, big investors, who have long memories about spectacular technology/business failures such as the Starship and Eclipse, avoid future investments in GA. Indeed, it is those who push blue sky nonsense in GA who do the most damage to its image and future.

Can a multi-mode aircraft/automobile be done? Of course. Molt Taylor did it 50 years ago, but there are too many compromises for most people; and the same is true for every such effort since.

As stronger materials become more affordable in the (too distant) future, there will be fewer compromises; but for now, Molt's Aerocar and the I-TEC Maverick are as real as flying roadables get; and their overall appeal in the marketplace has been small.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | August 23, 2012 11:30 AM    Report this comment

Actually, there are plenty of sensible business uses for small aircraft already. Medical professionals with several rural practices, real estate types, franchise owners, lawyers etc. Also, anyone whose time is valuable enough to make the math work, and even some commuters.

Did you know that many rural grocers used to fly from store to store? You would think someone at Cessna would know why they stopped, but I don't think they do. I occasionally pass a small plant along the coast that has its own asphalt strip that they still use. Certainly, if bizjets make sense, pistons do.

I think we will see a decent solution before too long. Two seats, LSA performance, 15 minute conversion, enclosed cockpit, and rated as a motorcycle or electric car to get around crash mandates for autos. I think they can certainly sell a few hundred per year to start, and many more if they keep improving them.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 23, 2012 12:33 PM    Report this comment

There is an interesting philosophical parallel between this discussions on “Flying Cars” and a recent discussion on “Electrical Powered Airplanes”. We should indeed be enthusiastic about developing new technology. However, we are doing a great disservice to ourselves if we do not carry out this development with an understanding and due considerations to the irrevocable physics of the world we live in. As far as “Flying Cars” are concerned the only feasible technology available to convert energy into propulsion is the use of one of the thermal cycles. Unfortunately due to inherent limitations this alone prevents the design of a practicable and economic single vehicle for both land and air transportation. In addition there are numerous other technical, logistic and interface issues that preclude “Flying Cars” to become a viable, commercial product

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | August 23, 2012 2:14 PM    Report this comment

The belief that anything is impossible or can't work because it hasn't in the past is kind of rediculous in and of itself...especially from a group that prides itself in enjoying the very impossible non-working idea that he Wright Brothers succeeding in proving. Think of just about any invention and you come up with the same conclusion. To say you can't make a successful product that people will buy that combine different functions (hammer and knife used in the example) and is a good product is a bit silly too (think Swiss Army Knife). How many silly ideas did people scoff out for centuries only to be proven wrong? I'm sure the cave man who invented the wheel was the laughing stock of the local pole dragging club. Don't get me wrong, it's a hard nut to crack for sure, but look how far we've all come in the last 100+ years in achieving the impossible. Now...back to watching the Curiosity rover on Mars.

Posted by: William Crow | August 23, 2012 3:31 PM    Report this comment


Only about 1/3 of all public airports have convenient ground transportation services... so a majority of destinations are better reached with combined air + ground transportation.

Roadable aircraft require a paradigm shift. They won't help with our current flying habits... rather, they will help us use our airplane in a whole new way. Currently, most airplanes are used as toys to visit a handful of fly-in or otherwise convenient destinations. Many of these pilots don't think they need roadability. They never get stuck because they never go anywhere. However, try flipping open the yellow pages, selecting a few addresses at random and flying there... you will be frustrated beyond relief. This is where combined air + ground transportation can help. Imagine using your airplane more like your car and visiting every-day destinations. I chuckle at the thought of "fly-in" restaurants. Seriously... there are 970,000 restaurants to visit with your airplane if you have ground transportation.

As for business applications, one of our customers regularly flies a Cherokee 6 to quote jobs for his business. He used to keep a handful of junk cars at the airports that he visits most frequently. However, we just built him a motorcycle loading system for his airplane. Now he's replaced a half dozen junk cars with one good motorcycle. He's more mobile than ever before and using his airplane and motorcycle to make money.

Posted by: David Shelton | August 23, 2012 7:09 PM    Report this comment


"Two seats, LSA performance, 15 minute conversion, enclosed cockpit, and rated as a motorcycle..."

Most people probably think you're dreaming but I happen to know that you are setting the bar too low. I fly a nice 160mph IFR airplane with 1,000 mile range. Single-handed conversion for road use in less than 2 minutes. Better acceleration and handling than many sports cars and easy to park too. Insured by Geico. Costs... a lot less than a Cessna Skycatcher.

How do I do that? Piper PA-32 with a welded aluminum motorcycle loading system.

I've found that most roadable aircraft enthusiasts are purely interested in making the airplane drive; or car fly in the case of flying cars.

Most roadable aircraft enthusiasts are focused entirely on making an airplane drive; making a car fly in the case of flying car folks. However, there are plenty of other solutions if we broaden our mission to getting people to destinations:

VTOL... land at the final destination with no need for a ground commute.

ATOL... small assisted take-off and landing systems nicely integrated into our communities.

Small personal vehicles with automated pick-up/drop-off at all 5,000 of our public airports.

Or in my case... a motorcycle and properly engineered loading system.

Posted by: David Shelton | August 23, 2012 8:07 PM    Report this comment

To me its the trip to the runway (what ever runway, be it regional airport or farm) that's the problem. The roads have humps and potholes that do damage vehicles not to mention other cars and drivers that don't care how they drive.

Don't get me wrong I would like to see flying cars but lets consider why.

The dream is to be driving down a road and find it blocked or congested, then one simply open the wings ("wings" could be jump jets to lift the vehicle about 50 or so feet )and take off landing some suitable area of the road after the blockage leaving the traffic behind. This requires a VTOL vehicle. Now imagine the scenario you arrive at a blockage and everyone else is opening their wings and taking off to fly over it. As everyone has different reaction times there will be vehicles in the air above those still trying to take off. A contained situation now just turned dangerous. The real dream is that only YOU have such a vehicle.

Now take the flying car and the present drivers of those cars and put them into such flying cars and let them loose in the air. Traffic on the ground is bad enough now we are going to put that same problem into the air. Sorry I really don't want cars falling on my head while I'm walking.

Its not the technology or innovation that's the problem its the human factor that's holding everything back.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | August 24, 2012 5:22 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, NASA solves all that in their PAV pipe dream with airplanes that fly themselves. Of course they can't deliver on that dream, but if you quiz them they will tell you it is in the distant future rather than something to see in your lifetime.

I don't know what the distant future holds, but I like the notion of anti-gravity based vehicles, powered by small fusion reactors and flown by AIs that take off and land from the small landing pad shared between every two or so neighbors. (I stole this notion from Jack McDevitt - a very successful SF author.)

I just can't get excited by a compromise vehicle that flies, but not very well, and drives on the roads, but not very well, and does it all in a cramped space that costs more than the airplane and car it replaces put together. The fact that nobody actually offers such a vehicle for sale is not what stops me from buying it. Even if it was for sale I don't think anybody who could actually afford to pay the price would choose to do so. There are much better ways to get to point B.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | August 24, 2012 6:13 AM    Report this comment

Yes Paul, there are airports with no rental cars available. I fly out of 7A8 in western NC. There isn't a rental car agency within 25 miles and they will not spot a car at the airport, period. We do have a part-time courtesy car available by prior arrangement but that's it.

Posted by: Richard Montague | August 24, 2012 7:47 AM    Report this comment

Popping out of traffic is just a dream, and if by dream standards we still don't have airplanes at all. Also, if the standard of flies well is a 172, I don't see why that can't be beat by a roadable plane design.

Carrying a motorcycle is a good idea, but doesn't help with weather. You might look into electric bicycles. They have come a long way, and carrying extra batteries yields good ranges.

Posted by: Eric Warren | August 24, 2012 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Strapping a motorcycle to the undercarriage, carrying a folding bike, electric scooter, motorized skateboard, or tractor-beam gun are all outside of the blog's premise and discussion. Unless, evidently, one has a product to sell.

So much flooding here lately, it seems I would actually need an amphiroadableairplane. Now we're talkin!

Posted by: David Miller | August 24, 2012 11:07 AM    Report this comment

I've been flying for business and pleasure from SoCal since 1965. Destinations are throughout almost all the states west of the Mississippi. If I were still working today, I'd be doing the same. Competent airplanes are a great business tool. Now it is just pleasure. Good planes are good for that also.

I suppose if I looked hard enough I could find an airport with no access to a car or shuttle, but I never have.

My last business trips were several flights to Nutree Airport in 2008. There is no car rental located at the airport, but a call to Enterprise with our ETA had a car and van waiting for our morning arrival. When we were done for the day, we left the vehicles parked there for them to pick up. Comfortably home for an 8:00 pm dinner.

If these proposed road-able airplanes are available for ~$250-300K I could afford one. Would I buy one? No. I'll use my plane for what it does best, unimpeded by carrying inefficient and un-needed equipment.

I have enough aero and mechanical engineering background and enough business experience to know we will never see certified road-able airplanes or flying cars in the next 50 years.

Nice to see a lot of optimists and dreamers in aviation, however. But 90% of business start-ups fail. The ratio for aircraft businesses is probably much higher.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | August 24, 2012 2:30 PM    Report this comment


My large airport (3 runways and 350 aircraft) doesn't even have a courtesy car. I helped conduct a survey a few years back and we found that only around 1/3 of public US airports have ground transportation services on site. Even when one finds a rental car, the inter-modal delays (finding, reserving and picking up) and longer drive time reduce door-to-door trip speeds by 30-40% for a typical 200nm cross-country. It's funny to see people spend $10,000 on speed mods (saves 1-2 minutes) and then spend 21.5 minutes to pickup a rental car.

Posted by: David Shelton | August 24, 2012 3:37 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, it won't let me post the link but you can go to roadabletimes.com and search for Jeep-O-Plane. It's an amphibious roadable design from the 1950's and a not-fully roadable prototype did fly. Give the website a quick surf and you should find all kinds of fascinating stuff.

Posted by: David Shelton | August 24, 2012 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Leaving the airframe behind at the airport is a known solution, which has yet to be updated -- and here's how:

Personal ultra-light electric tilt-rotor aircraft replacing the motorcar for individual intercity mobility will leave the ultra-light electric mini-city-car as the only survivor of the automobile era, whereby easy conversion of all level crossings to roundabouts, and of all city streets to one-way roads will become feasible as mandatory passive safety measures for ultra-light mini-cars.

Now, is the problem of leaving the airframe behind on the limited parking space of the city's unique airport really a problem today?

Not so with UL tiltrotor airframes, as the whole plane can land anywhere at the urban periphery, not even needing ground space when docking to a perch and winching the wheeled cockpit to the ground...

This is no abstruse vision of an idealist -- it is indeed the only practicable solution to avoid disaster when Russia, China and India will have to decide whether or not they really want to go it all for the motorcar -- not to mention Africa.

But by then, Africa will be able to profit from our personal aircraft technology to ensure individual mobility without covering the continent with tens of thousands of miles of motorways -- exactly as it is profiting right now from our personal telephones for the mobility of informations without covering the whole continent with tens of thousands of miles of copper wires...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | August 31, 2012 8:41 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, Ben Inglis' comment came in just after mine (Oscar Fleury) -- creating the impression that he thinks my comment is utter insanity.

Insanity there is indeed in the idea of a flying car as a traditional car with deployable wings (like the Terrafugia), or of a traditional car-like cockpit separable from a fixed wing airframe left behind at an airport.

However, landing anywhere at the urban periphery with a personal VERTOL aircraft and driving downtown with its cockpit changes the game.

Yet the only eligible concept known to date is the military V22 Osprey -- alas, known to be unable to auto-rotate (which is mandatory for civil certification). Its civil version, the BA-609, launched in 2002 and transferred to Europe years later, is still grounded in Italy after Bell recently sold it to it's former partner Agusta-Westland under an agreement preventing any new military developments to be transferred to the civil prototype, now called the AW-609

This agreement clearly denotes that the intent of the US tenants of power is to keep it grounded -- by fear that the civil society might take possession of the global airspace with myriads of personal aircraft -- thus threatening the US Air Force's absolute control of the global airspace, based on supersonic fighter-bombers and, increasingly, on an unknown number of drones of unknown types (don't trust officially available information -- it's classified geostrategic top stuff).

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 11, 2012 2:26 PM    Report this comment

The curtailing of the civil tilt-rotor version by the US tenants of power (as precluded since the military project was launched in the eighties) has left the AW-609 with its redhibitory vice called "inability to safely land in the auto-rotation emergency mode" (as is mandatory for civil certification -- yet which has already caused the death of 30 military personnel). This safety problem has indeed not been addressed by the military until most recently when the US Army issued a call for submissions by private US companies for the development of a variable/reversible twist rotor blade, after claiming that they want to use the aircraft for other purposes than the high risk combat missions assigned to it by the Navy and the Air Force to date.

The imminent solution (although probably classified under oath -- yet bound to leak sooner or later into the public domain) is deemed to wake up a sleeping giant called "massively popularized airborne individual intercity mobility" based on personal tilt-rotor aircraft with a separable cockpit usable as an electric mini-car for individual urban mobility.

And fully automated flight is long-standing state-of-the-art! Personal electronic highways projected into the airspace, followed by personal fully automatic pilots as safely as fully automatic trains are already following their hardened steel rails, will enable personal fast-cruising ultra-light electric tilt-rotor aircraft to dramatically enhance individual freedom of movement!

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 11, 2012 2:41 PM    Report this comment

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