Flying Cars Take You to New Heights

What’s the single greatest disappointment of the 21st century?

You don’t have to be a sci-fi buff to know that the answer is a distinct lack of flying cars. Science-fiction authors have a lot to answer for; raising our expectations about the rapid evolution of human transport systems and leading us to believe that congested high ways would be a thing of the past as soon as the sun set on 1999.

Sadly, we’re still very much earth bound and idling in more traffic than ever before.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the backed up tunnel. Several companies, not to mention a few dedicated entrepreneurs have designed and built prototypes for various flying cars. Some are still very much in the concept stage, while others could be parked in our garages by the end of next year.

In May 2009, Terrafugia wrote itself into the history books when its Transition Roadable Aircraft Proof of Concept (that’s flying car to those of us who aren’t aeronautical engineers) took flight.

It’s not as sleek as we might expect, but it meets the most important criteria of a flying car. That is it can reach a respectable road speed of around 180kmh and gets sufficient elevation for it to require a pilot’s licence to fly. The Transition can carry two people and can switch between being a car and a plane in less than half a minute. Fuel isn’t an issue as plain old unleaded will do.

A final selling price has yet to be determined, but you can expect to shell out between $200,000 and $250,000 (R1.36 million and R1.7 million).

Once in a lifetime you come across something that is so cool you have to have it, no matter what it costs or what it does. The Moller M400 SkyCar is one such thing. Unlike the Transition, which needs a runway to get off the ground, the SkyCar is a VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) vehicle. It has a cruising speed of 600kmh and is capable of running on natural gas. And, it looks the part.

SkyCar is the brainchild of Dr Paul Moller, who has put in over three decades of hard work to see his dream vehicle come to life. It was expected to go into full-flight testing in 2005, but as it’s made few headlines, either spectacularly good or bad, it may be reasonable to assume that it isn’t yet ready for mass production.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to imagine yourself nearly 2km above the hurly burly of terrestrial life, passing the occasional cloud, bird and Boeing while the on-board computer takes care of all the hard stuff, leaving you to worry only if you moved the bicycle so you can drive your baby straight into the garage.

The incredibly sexy SkyCar isn’t the only project on Dr Moller’s plate. The company has also been working on hi-tech hovercraft-type vehicles, such as the M200G Neuera (new era) VTOL personal recreational or utility vehicle (also known as the Jetson, because it looks like one of the saucer-like vehicles on the dodgy cartoon). skywings

This not technically a flying car, but it can travel up to 10 feet above any surface. It was designed to include the best characteristics of boats, hovercraft, ATVs, snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles and can even hurdle obstacles.

Entecho’s Hoverpod is a sexier version of the Neuera and is supposed to be just as easy to fly (no pilot’s licence required). Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Neuera, which doesn’t exactly inspire vertigo. The Hoverpod only goes as high as 5 feet, but it can carry three, as opposed to two, passengers and has the benefit of looking like something out of Star Wars and not a Saturday morning kiddies’ TV special.

Let’s turn our attention to motorbikes, the flying kind. The Super Sky Cycle was designed and developed by Larry Neal, and, unlike the flying cars mentioned above, it is actually registered and is available for purchase. It’ll go 88kmh on an open road and 160kmh in the air. It runs on the petrol you get from your local filling station and will fit into your garage. It converts from a bike to a plane in a few minutes and you can learn to fly it within 10 hours of training. affluentwords

It’s possible that twice in a lifetime, something so cool will come along that you just have to have it, and the SkyBike is the second one. The SkyBike is a multi-mode vehicle (MMV), i.e. a motorbike and aircraft in one, from Samson Motorworks. With three wheels it’s not technically a motorbike but it makes up for that minor flaw by being amazing. Samson Motorworks is actually developing two MMVs: the SkyBike and the Switchblade. The difference between the two lies in the wing design. The Skybike uses a telescoping wing design, and the Switchblade a scissor wing design which retracts the wings when you move from the air to the road.

But none of that matters when you consider that it comes with all features you’d expect from a top-of-the-line luxury car, including heating and air conditioning, video rear view monitor, dual ground/air lighting system, automatic vehicle leaning in turns, and stereo CD player with MP3. In terms of safety, it comes with a front impact shock absorber and side impact door protection and one thing you won’t find your luxury sedan, a ballistic chute recovery system. And they meet ultra-low carbon emission standards.


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