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« Eudora Problem | Main | The Bridge Collapse »

Interview with Land Speeder Manufacturer

The Star Wars land speeder is scheduled to head into commercial production in 2008 or 2009. It looks more like a flying saucer than a roadster. It uses ground effect. Safer and simpler than a helicopter? Stay tuned.

Here's a brochure, a spec sheet, and a FAQ.
I asked Bruce Calkins, press contact at Moller about it.

Transterrestrial Musings: Is it street legal?

Bruce Caulkins, Moller International: It falls into a new category. While no one has claimed it, it remains to be seen who will want to regulate its use.

TM: Estimated first delivery date?

Caulkins: Late 2008 or 2009.

TM: Range?

Caulkins: Dependent upon payload, but approximately 100 miles.

TM: Gas mileage?

Caulkins: Not very good. Our engines burn .55 lbs per hp-hr. With 600 hp installed, that gives you 45 minutes to an hour on 40 gallons.

[TM: That calculates out to 2.5 miles per hour.]

TM: Snow present any difficulty?

Caulkins: No.

TM: What would happen if you drove it over a cliff?

Caulkins: The terrain-following software would let the vehicle settle at its maximum safe descent rate until it came to the bottom of the cliff.

TM: Can you drive over other cars on the freeway?

Caulkins: I wouldn't recommend it. Someone will probably be really pissed when they see you get ahead of them. We suggest that it be used off-road exclusively.

TM: What do you expect retail price to be if production hits 500,000 units?

Caulkins: At that volume, price could be in the range of $10,000 per unit, although I don't know ...

(Thanks for the lead, Instapundit.)

Posted by Sam Dinkin at August 03, 2007 02:23 PM
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I wouldn't be in too big a hurry to put down a deposit. Moller has been working on the idea for about 40 years and he still won't demonstrate the thing without a safety tether. He has also been on the bad end of an SEC fraud citation. This latest idea actually looks like a warmed over version of his previous test article.

Before I'd even consider sending him a dime, I'd want to see a full demonstration (without safety tether) of the vehicle's performance envelop. As it is, it looks like he's looking for a new set of rubes, er investors to keep his hobby shop running.

Posted by Larry J at August 3, 2007 02:48 PM

The performance specs don't seem all that aggressive for some other manufacturer to do it. It drinks a lot more gas than a comparable helicopter. If only for Halloween, it seems like it would be a big seller at a $90,000 sticker price if they can deliver it.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at August 3, 2007 03:05 PM

Even if it did hover without a tether, his answer to "Is it street legal" sounds like weasel words to me. Setting aside the crash test issue, unless they demonstrate it doing something as simple as turning a corner in a busy intersection at normal driving speed without drifting into other cars - something an ordinary hovercraft would find near-impossible - the answer is a flat-out NO.

Posted by Roger Strong at August 3, 2007 04:48 PM

I agree with Roger here. Having said that, can you imagine the fun you'd have, if all traffic consisted of high speed, poorly maneuverable bumper cars?

Posted by Karl Hallowell at August 3, 2007 06:12 PM

But it won't work without power converters from Toshi Station.

Posted by narciso at August 3, 2007 07:46 PM

They're probably using the tether because you don't need FAA permission for tethered flight under 500 feet. That way they sidestep the regulatory questions, for now.

Posted by Jim Bennett at August 3, 2007 09:01 PM

Moller does have a vehicle that looks more like a car than a flying saucer - the Skycar.

The flying saucer model looks kinda reminds me of this:

Posted by Alan K. Henderson at August 3, 2007 10:35 PM

Here's a personal flier with better range. It runs on a Mazda rotary car engine or equivalent. Any way to get it down to man-portable backpack size? What about an electric engine mounted to one turbofan with counter rotating blades?

Posted by Sam Dinkin at August 4, 2007 08:21 AM

It's not an unregulated category. FAA says the moment a manned vehicle leaves the ground for sustained flight at any altitude - including 1' - it belongs to them.

FAA hasn't enforced their rules on homebuilt hovercraft, because they figure small hovercraft can't hurt anything - they go too slow, they're very difficult to control and there aren't many of them. But they could. If Moller sells any, they will.

In the immortal words of the Knights (in Monte Python and the Holy Grail)


Posted by Richard R at August 4, 2007 10:06 AM

It looks a lot heavier than the 316 pounds to get into the ultra-light with float category. I guess we'll have to stick to Mosquito and G-1 helicopter kits (and Gen H-4 kits once they're tested) if we want to have VTOL craft.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at August 4, 2007 11:04 AM

Don't you mean miles per gallon?

Posted by M. Simon at August 4, 2007 11:13 AM

That dang thing will be incredibly useless. At $90k each, maybe a few oil-rich sheiks will buy them but when they try to scoot across the desert and kick up a cloud of sand, or fly across the gulf spewing salty mist, both cases reducing visibility to zero, they'll park them in their garages along with all their other toys and never ride them again.

Posted by Dave at August 4, 2007 11:36 AM

The tether is not for avoiding FAA regulations. It's because the test pilot values his life. Keeping the thing low enough to stay in ground effect does reduce the power requirement, but the main benefit, I suspect, is that it gives you some chance of surviving an engine failure.

Posted by Jay at August 4, 2007 12:37 PM

Shoulda read the brochure before posting: the thing does apparently have redundancy in powerplants, so an engine failure shouldn't kill the occupants.

Posted by Jay at August 4, 2007 12:42 PM

Don't believe a word of it. Moller's skycar has been vaporware for decades. I have an article from over a decade ago in which Moller claims his skycar will be in full flight test in a couple of months. It's never been anywhere close. The design is seriously flawed, his numbers don't add up, and his claims of what it would cost to build and sell for on the market are a fairy tale.

I wouldn't quite put him in the 'fraud' category, as he does build real hardware and attempt to make it work, but anyone who gives him a nickel without seeing a finished vehicle with a proven performance envelope is a sucker.

There is a whole category of aviation scam that involves promising a revolutionary aircraft, showng pretty color pictures of a cool-looking prototype (or artist's rendering of one), and then selling info-kits for $25. Eventually, peopel realize that the 'info-kit' is the only only product that was ever planned and stop buying them. So the company vanishes and reappears with another space-age airplane and a new info-kit. There are companies that have been pulling this scam for decades and have never built a single thing that has taken to the air.

Just say no.

Posted by Dan at August 4, 2007 01:20 PM

Good points, Dan. Moller has actually built real stuff that flies (and which is actually fairly impressive), which puts him in a whole different category from the "paper-airplane" scam artists. But I've been reading about Moller for decades, and don't expect the path he's chosen to ever (in my lifetime, at least) lead to anything safe enough for non-daredevils to fly.

Posted by Jay at August 4, 2007 02:02 PM

I've seen this vehicle in earlier versions, and I always wonder about the power to weight ratio. Just how much power do the engines make? Because it just looks like it will take "big brass ones" to fly that type craft.

Posted by Steve at August 4, 2007 02:49 PM

Six hundred horsepower and it doesn't take 250 pounds out of ground effect? A six hundred horsepower aircraft is turbine class.. and fast enough that you could probably get door to door faster than the airlines. Is anyone buying this?

Posted by Jane Bernstein at August 4, 2007 06:32 PM

Does anyone remember Bede Aircraft's kit plane? I think the last kit was the BD-5. Single engine pusher, one person aircraft. It was followed in later years by a turbojet. He was taking deposits on kit orders for a long period without delivery.

This reminds me of that story.

Posted by Norm at August 4, 2007 09:36 PM

I wonder if Dean Kamen should get into the personal aviation game...

Posted by Alan K. Henderson at August 5, 2007 03:40 AM

Moller's claims have been essentially the same since the early-to-mid 80's at least (skycar coming soon! Commercial production! Street legal! blah blah blah)... and yet, nothing ever arrives.

Possible? Sure. But Moller has given it a VERY VERY bad track record to start off.

Posted by Deoxy at August 6, 2007 09:00 AM

No roll-bar? Wouldn't that make flipping the thing about 100% fatal?

Posted by Speedo at August 6, 2007 10:52 AM

It takes about 50 hp (a 3-stroke Honda engine or small rotary Mazda car engine, or 4 10 hp engines) which weighs somewhere between 50 (electric) and 125 (efficient gasoline) pounds to be able to heft the engine and the user and the ducted fans or rotors. If you go to two counter rotating ducted fans instead of a contra rotating pair or rotors or a simple big rotor, tail rotor layout, you add more weight. With six ducted fans, you add still more weight. Now it needs to be forklifted or wheeled when it isn't flying because it weighs 500 pounds or more.

Without a breakthrough in batteries or capacitors which would make the electric engine viable, a breakthrough in materials strength to weight that would make the rotors and support structure lighter or a breakthrough in battery or capacitor shape and strength so that the battery can be shaped into structural components, it will be hard to make man-portable flight apparatuses with longer flight duration than a rocket backpack.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at August 7, 2007 08:50 AM

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