A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

March 2015 


     Flying cars are already a reality, but only as demonstration machines for now. 

     In recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about “flying cars”, the concepts, the prototypes, the specifications and the promises.   So far there’s still nothing that is really practical to lead a new wave of personal transportation.  Untold fortunes have been invested in some of these things that the average non-pilot dreams about, and the average pilot dismisses, as long as it is promoted in its present form.  The fantasy is to have a vehicle that can simply spread its wings, take off and fly over the traffic jam on the way to work, and then similarly return home to the suburbs each afternoon.  Although we’ve already seen cars that can fly, we won’t see the reality happening that way.

      Every vehicle designed and built as a flying car will require the owner to have a pilot’s license as well as a drivers’ license.  The car will perhaps be legal to drive on the roads, but in order to fly, like any aircraft it will need an aerodrome to take off and land.   And there goes the advantage of beating the traffic on your daily commute.  Also, a machine that is capable of both tasks will be a poor example of each.  Another major deterrent to owning a vehicle like this is the cost.   It is way beyond the target groups’ ability to pay, just yet.

         Other obstacles to overcome are still immense.  The use and control of airspace will be a nightmare to contend with.  To truly fulfill the dream, more aerodromes will be required, and the demand will be to build them in locations where right now, airports are being shut down.  Safety will be an issue.  When the first few flying cars experience the inevitable accidents, the entire idea could be abandoned.   And the most difficult hurdle is the need to re-educate the media, along with politicians and bureaucrats.   That alone, I suggest will be impossible! 

           To the owner of a flying car now, there are just a couple of practical advantages.  He would have a machine that can be driven home at night from the airport, and parked in the garage.  The aircraft would eliminate the need for the full-sized hangar.  As well, when he flies into an airport other than his home field, he won’t be looking for transportation into town.  And that’s about it.   Owners will still be required to learn how to fly, and pay big money that’s already blamed for fewer pilots entering the ranks.  At close to $300,000 for the vehicle, it is difficult to imagine why anyone would opt for the flying car over the 40 year old Cessna, or for an ultralight aircraft. 

            Sometime in this New Year, at least one such flying car is scheduled for delivery.  The TERRAFUGIA TRANSITION has been featured on many internet stories for several years now, always drawing a lot of interest and discussion.   Advertising states the Transition is easy and fun to fly.  On the ground it is street legal, highway capable, and fits in a single car garage.   The hype conjures up the fantasies we like to imagine, however delays in R & D and production have kept the project off the market so far.   The initial estimated price tag was somewhere around $195,000, but by 2011 that had increased to $279,000.  So where it will eventually settle, if it ever does, is still up in the air. 

               If this all sounds a bit negative and skeptical, it is!   But maybe I shouldn’t be so down on the idea because there are possibilities, and quite frankly it is something I would like to see.  Many people much smarter than I am have been wrong about wild ideas in the past, ideas and inventions that were valuable contributions to society, and in fact changed the face of the world!    In 1903 Henry Fords lawyer was advised by his bank manager to forget buying Ford stocks because, as he said, “The horse is here to stay.  The automobile is only a novelty – a fad”.   A movie producer for 20th Century Fox, Daryl Zanuck, announced that “television wouldn’t last long because people would get tired of staring at a plywood box every night”.  That prediction was in 1946.  A few years later, Popular Science Magazine envisioned computers that may have “only one thousand vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh as little as one and a half tons”.  At that time, in 1949, some calculators of the day were many times larger and heavier than that.  And as late as 1977, the founder and president of a company called Digital Equipment Corporation stated that “there was no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”. 

       It makes you wonder how these predictions of failures could have been so far out in left field. 

      History is full of epic failures too.  We can’t say the flying car is one of them, but is there, or will there ever be a market for such a product?   Henry Ford had a market for an automobile.  Even in his time, the car was practical.  The Concorde is a good example of something that works, but did not have a practical reason to survive.  The flying car is more than just a new product.  To be truly successful, the entire concept needs to be accepted and embraced by the world.  Who can say for certain that it never will be?  Maybe in this New Year, 2015, we’ll see a major move toward the success of a vehicle that flies and drives. 

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