Flying Cars, the Fun Factor, and Their Future

By Scott Spangler on April 10th, 2012
The PAL-V, a hot-rod trike with a fold away gyrocopter rotor and prop.

The Terrafugia Transition’s appearance at the New York auto show made the news recently. Flying cars have been an interesting engineering exercise since the late 1940s, but they really aren’t practical. Just ask Popular Mechanics: 7 Reasons the Terrafugia Transition Isn’t Coming to Your Garage.

This is the point that hit home with me. The author compared the Terrafugia to the Cessna 152; would you spend $279,000 on a dual-purpose 152?  And that assumes the manufacturer successfully certifies it as a light-sport aircraft, and that they can hold this price. For half the price of a flying car you can buy a  Cessna 162 SkyCatcher, which leaves more than enough for a really nice car—and gas money for both.

Much more interesting is the PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle),which recently made its maiden flight in the Netherlands, captured in the video above. Engineers bred a two-seat, three-wheel motorcycle with a gyrocopter and designed a fascinating low-profile, fold-away rotor, prop, and tail. On the ground and in the air, this thing looks like fun.

On the ground and in the air, it leans into the turns. According to the specs, its 230-hp engine delivers 28 mpg and 9.5 gph, covering 750 miles of road around 300 air miles. On the ground it maxes out at 112 mph and VNE is 97 knots; minimum level-flight speed is 27 knots. It takes off in 540 feet and lands in 100. The company has not yet released a price. That will likely come once they turn the prototype into the production model.

In the end, the PAL-V has a much greater chance for success than the Terrafugia. Honestly, we can’t get people interested in learning to fly period. Really, how many people will spend six months or more learning to fly a car that cost them $300,000? With a reasonable price point, the PAL-V might attract a fair number of 1-percenters looking for a little action on the weekends. –Scott Spangler

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2 Responses to “Flying Cars, the Fun Factor, and Their Future”

  1. Alan M. Says:

    I agree completely on the Terrafugia. On the PAL-V, I do think it’s closer to the real thing but as an auto-gyro, it still needs road. So I don’t think it fits the VTOL requirement most people have in mind for a ‘flying car’, but at least it’s probably quite safe.

  2. @williamAirways Says:

    The Terrafugia flying car concept looks great…on paper. Scott nailed it. Why would anyone buy this thing for other than bragging rights? Like he said, the same amount of money will buy you a C162 and a nice car. Or, you can just skip the plane and buy a really nice car, or vice versa. The Terrafugia team proved that they “coulda” but what they forgot to ask themselves is if they “shoulda”. At the end, I predict this to be nothing more than a proof of concept that few will buy into. I hope Terrafugia is able to use the engineering discoveries from this project to make something a lot more practical in other applications.

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