Postcard from flying cars

While I was growing up, there was this assumption that some time soon, we would all have a flying car. At the time, the future was expected to be shortly after the year 2000.

We're well and truely in that future, and I don't see a flying car in anyone's garage. OK, we can all be spoilsports and suggest that it could be a good thing in some respects, but it's a future that didn't happen, and I can't help feeling more than a tinge of disappointment.

Again, reality intervened. The idea is sound enough, some kind of fold-out or fold-down wings, and a couple of engine nacelles hidden somewhere in the road version, a straight road and you're air-borne.

The engineering issues are bad enough. Power to weight ratios and centre of gravity, coupled with wing area and lift calculations make an aircraft very different from a car. There are designs for this kind of combination vehicle, as the URLs show, but they're clearly built primrily as an aircraft with light road wheels and the ability to fold the wings out of the way. The Moller is a little different, it looks more like one of the automated drones from Terminator , using vectored thrust rather than wing area to control lift.

So, will I get a flying car anytime soon? I don't know, but if we don't, the reason will relate as much to politics and safety as engineering. When you think about it, controlling large numbers of small, manoeuverable aircraft over a city is a serious problem. It needs 100%, rock solid automation with no manual control available. Traffic control, particularly where and how take-offs and landings can occur need thought. Things like servicing and quality control have to be taken more seriously with an aircraft than a car.

Then there has to be a safe response to problems like loss of power. It's dangerous enough on the road if your engine suddenly looses power, but in the air, gravity makes things worse, and it's unlikely that a flying car will have the wingspan to glide.

I'd still like one though, I just don't want to share the sky with a few of the people I see on the road.

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