27 thoughts on “No Flying Cars

      1. Daver

        I can think of several reasons not to want them (lousy drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, things falling out of the sky onto my house). However, there should be solutions to most of these. I’m not sure the solutions would do anything to cut down rush-hour congestion, though, which seems to be what most people want flying cars for.

        On the other hand, I’ve spent ten hours traveling 1000 miles by commercial air. There’s hardly any way a flying car could be slower than that, and I wouldn’t have to deal with TSA.

        1. Thomas Matula

          Daver,

          Most of those problems could be eliminated with advancements in AI flight systems which is I suspect that like the video phone they will emerge as a simple side effect of advances in other fields, like the DARPA and Google self-driving vehicles. Advances in material and power technologies would also lower the bar for them.

          1. Daver

            I might be suffering from old-fogeyism–I don’t see much use for flying cars for very short-distance flights (less than 100 miles). Having an autonomous flying vehicle available for renting for short-medium trips (100-1000 miles) seems like a sweet spot. Kind of the market for the proposed minijets, but without the pilot. If they were capable of operating in weather and at altitude they’d be pretty popular for ski trips.

            A similar topic cropped up a few months back; one of the posters here likes the idea of short-range electric VTOLs. I’m a bit skeptical, but I guess there’s no way of settling the argument other than waiting and seeing.

        2. Larry J

          There will probably never be a time when we have masses of people operating flying cars. They’re simply too expensive to obtain and operate. I own both a car and a private plane. My plane has to pass an annual inspection. Most years, that only costs about $800. Unfortunately, this year my mechanic found a problem that required replacing two cylinders. My annual ended up costing over $5000. The only thing cheap on an airplane is the air in the tires. Few aircraft owners neglict maintenance because doing so is a fool’s economy. It’ll always cost more in the end and it could cost you your life. Flying cars would be no different.

          I don’t see the FAA lowering the requirements to pilot a flying car beyond that of the category it is licensed in. The Taylor Aerocar was licensed as a private plane so the pilot had to earn a private pilot’s license. The Terrafugia is trying to obtain a license as a Light Sport Aircraft (which has more restrictions than a regular private aircraft) so the pilot will need an LSA license at a minimum.

          The dream of a flying car isn’t so much for daily commutes but for general long distance travel. Drive to the airport, extend or attach the flying surfaces and fly to your destination airport. Once there, detach or retract the flying surfaces and drive to your destination. If you encounter bad weather while flying, land at the nearest airport and drive past the weather and then resume flying. As Molt Taylor pointed out, when you arrive at your destination airport, most of the time you aren’t where you wanted to go (unless it’s a fly-in at that airport or the proverbial $100 hamburger).

          1. Daver

            I have a friend whose wife commutes more than a hundred miles one way a day (this ought to get better as she gets seniority)–for ridiculous commutes like that, some sort of a flying car might be nice. Most people don’t need anything like that–a flying car might be used once or twice a month (hop down to Disneyland or over to the slopes. If it were a flying amphicar, over to the lake perhaps).

            For me, a couple of mopeds and an autonomous aircraft big enough for my family and luggage and the mopeds would provide about 70% of the utility of a flying car (or skip the mopeds–even dinky airports usually have car rentals). Renting probably makes more sense than owning–routing algorithms should be able to juggle when and where I want to fly with how much I want to pay. When I fly out to my folks in the boonies I’d probably need to add an hour or so to the rental so that it could fly to the next passenger pick-up, and again for the return trip; people flying from popular spot to popular spot wouldn’t be charged that overhead. That might keep the use factor high enough that the per-hour rental for four people would be on the same order as commercial travel.

            Of course there are liability issues. Even if the technology is available liability might keep it from being implemented in the US (and the US seems to be ideal for this sort of thing).

  1. Larry J

    I know the man who owns the only airworthy Taylor Aerocar I. He’s very happy with his flying car. There’s another copy for sale but it is out of annual. My former mechanic did the maintenance on the airworthy Aerocar I so he’d be the man to talk to about getting this copy back into the air.

    1. Edward Wright

      Flying cars have been around since the 1920′s.

      They have never been practical and never will be. Airframes last a lot longer than auto bodies because they aren’t subject to road wear. No respectable airplane should be subjected to that kind of abuse.

      I wish people would stop quoting that silly commercial.

      1. Larry J

        The Taylor Aerocar was actually certified by the FAA. I met Molt Taylor at Oshkosh back in the late 1970s. He had a deal with one of the Big 3 automakers to put the car into production until the bureaucrats stepped in. They loaded the vehicle with so many license requirements and extra weight that it was killed. Molt didn’t have too many good things to say about bureaucrats. He’d spent decades working on his Aerocars and they worked. The sole airworthy Aerocar trades time between the owner’s sons in Florida and California. It didn’t fly very well at the Colorado altitudes where the owner lives.

      2. Rand Simberg Post author

        I think that most people, when they say “where is my flying car?,” mean that flying cars will be the dominant mode of transportation, not that they will merely exist in impractical form in insignificant numbers.

        1. Larry J

          Flying cars will never be the dominate mode of transportation because they cost too much. However, some people still want one. It isn’t impossible to make a flying car but very difficult and expensive. Then there are the bureaucrats. Molt Taylor’s Aerocar had folding wings and detachable tail surfaces. They included wheels in them so they could be easily trailored behind the car. As a result, DMV said he needed registration and tags for both the car and the trailor along with a driver’s license. The FAA required a private pilot’s license. At the time, the FCC required registration for the aircraft radios. IIRC, he ended up needing a total of 7 licenses and registrations to operate the Aerocar. That was one of the reasons why the production deal he’d signed with one of the Big-3 automakers collapsed.

          1. Edward Wright

            Not much more expensive than any other homebuilt aircraft. No more than many luxury cars.

            If you’re willing to invest the time and money, you can get something that flies like a car and drives like an airplane. In addition, there are at least two companies (Molnari and Samson Motors) working on flying motorcycles, which seem to be more popular than cars right now.

            But the people who go around saying, “Where’s my flying car?” are not homebuilders, in my experience. Most of them are not even pilots. They’re just annoying hipsters trying to be “ironic.”

  2. B Lewis

    I’d trade every goofball gadget and gimmick she listed in that article for the IGY, moon-colony, atomic tailfin future I was promised as a child.

    Pardon my French, but f____ Facebook, and f____ disposable diapers, too. I want my G__da__ed flying car.

      1. Thomas Matula

        By having it associated with bombs. Imagine if napalm had predated the internal combustion engine :-)

      2. B Lewis

        How did we ever let nuclear power become so regulated and reviled?

        Because the “greatest generation” — a cohort of statists addicted to the dole and disillusioned on Christianity by World War II — gave birth to an unstoppable mob of spoiled, narcissistic monsters, then handed the country over to them.

        The “civil war” blew America to pieces. Woodrow Wilson blasted the ruins into powder. And the GG and the Boomers pissed on what little was left.

        And now we are left with the bill for it all.

        I am a former nuclear power worker, I can say from personal experience that only pussies are afraid of nuclear energy. Coal smoke is orders of magnitude more harmful that any nuclear accident could ever be. I’d rather live downwind of any nuclear power plant than the cleanest coal-burner. Sure, the chances of a Fukushima are non-zero, but better that slim chance than the certainty of breathing in some of the five tons of particulate uranium emitted from a typical coal-fired power plant each day (along with thorium, radiocarbon, polonium, bismuth, and other radioisotopes from coal). [Source]

        To sum up: America dead, replaced by a democracy of pussies. Bring on the Doomsday Asteroid.

        1. Thomas Matula

          B Lewis,

          Yep, I spent an entire chapter in my dissertation on the topic of perceived risk discussed how irrational folks were about the risks of nuclear energy versus coal energy given the much higher risks (by an order of magnitude) from coal energy. I also discussed how coal power plants released much more radiation into the atmosphere than is ever allowed for nuclear plants.

          Its the same with aircraft and spacecraft. Folks get killed all the time in aircraft but you never see any Presidential Commission on it. But let someone get killed in a spacecraft and everything stops for years while its investigated in detail. There was no reason the Atlantis couldn’t have launch to the ISS on schedule after Columbia, but irrational fear grounded the Shuttles for years.

    1. Godzilla

      Terrafugia looks much more viable. Moller is considered to be a con artist by a lot of people. I guess he just scammed some Chinese out of their money this time. The design Moller usually presents can’t have the required horsepower and fuel in that package even with current technology.

      1. Daver

        I’ve seen a motorcycle/autogyro convertible. It looked pretty fun. I don’t think I’d like it for a 1000 mile trip, but maybe a couple hundred wouldn’t be bad.

        Moller’s been around about as long as I’ve been on the internet. I think his first aircar proposal predates the P&F cold fusion announcement. I think cold fusion is more likely to be practical.

        1. Larry J

          Moller is pushing aeronautical vaporware. I’ll believe he’s for real when he flies the damned thing through its entire envelop without wires before the crowd at Oshkosh.

          1. Daver

            But again, he’s consistent. He’s been pushing the same stuff for decades and is always just a few years away from deployment and still they keep giving him TV spots.

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