Thinking out of the Box: unwrapping the ‘Flying Car’. How to combine personal transport in the air and on the road

Personal transport refers to the idea that one should have freedom of choice in means, time, routing and destination. That’s probably one of the main reasons of the immense success of the automobile. You use your car when you want and how you want. A very convenient ‘ door to door’ solution. But there are limitations. The modern infrastructure supporting our cars is under pressure and various parts of our world are still difficult to reach due to poor road infrastructure. The popular Dutch bicycle is perhaps most flexible and personal with respect to freedom but is unfortunately limited in range and comfort. Group based or public transport such as trains, airlines, ships etc.) are limited in location of departure and arrival and do not provide you ‘door to door’ mobility at your choice. A ‘ personal’ taxi would be nice when affordable but these are limited in service area by all kinds of permits and regulations. And no privacy as in the comfort of your private means of transport. It is therefore no surprise that the concept of a flying car is such an attractive proposition. You can drive when you want (and can..) and fly whenever you need to (or want to….) and simply park at home giving you a feeling of being in control of your travels and have great fun while doing it. But how to combine these modes in one craft? The ‘simplest’ flying car approach was to take an existing fully functional car and bolt some wings, engines, tail etc. on top of it. Interesting, but such a configuration will not fit the road anymore and the weight is enormous. The car and aircraft engine use(d) different fuels and are also subject to different legal regulations. Parking? Imagine a simple manoeuvre such as parking at the supermarket. It will be more than a night mare. So, the wings need to be left behind somewhere when driving to the supermarket……. Other inventors circumvented such drawbacks by adopting a ‘flying saucer approach’ nicely demonstrated in the famous Jetsons cartoon series. But the fuel efficiency of these make them unpractical. The Moeller Skycar is an example of this. So, other innovations (or miracles….) are in need to obtain a flexible and practical flying car that can ‘transform’ into the desired mode of transport without having to mount or remove components to switch between the desired transport modes. Examples of the ‘transformer approach’ are the Terrafugia with its folding (fixed) wings and the PAL-V One with her folding rotary wings. Other means for packaging lift devices temporarily is to store them in the fuselage structure as pursued by the Aeromobile that applies ‘swept wings’ (F111 ) to store them when not in use. All flying car designs face enormous challenges with respect to obtaining realistic dimensions, low weight and adequate performance to meet the demands of physics, regulations, appearance, practical utility and last but not least the dreams and perceptions of potential investors and customers. Pleasant, easy and safe to fly, fun and comfortable while driving. The presentation will give a short review on the history of the flying cars, the certification challenges of using aviation systems (lift devices etc.) under intense driving conditions and vice versa, why most designs failed to become commercially viable and review the new ways ahead in more contemporary designs. An important aspect but often overseen is the ‘Operational concept’. How to integrate a flying car effectively and comfortably into the existing infrastructure. Where can it take off and land? At any suitable place or not? What kind of solutions are envisaged? Are existing regulations promoting innovations or not? What will be the role of ATC, if any? The presentation will use the PAL-V as a main example to discuss the challenges and illustrate that the ‘gift’ of Flying car(s) has been finally unwrapped to be(come) an appreciated partner in the quest for real, practical and comfortable personal transport.