For over a hundred years, right from the time when airplanes were invented, people have worked on inventing a ‘flying car’. It is only now, when science and technology have reached greater heights, that the dream of the common man owning his own personal air vehicle seems to be plausible. One of the biggest proofs of this new reality is the stamp of approval given by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the mass production of Terrafugia’s personal air vehicle, Transition. So to know how exactly this personal air vehicle will work, let us start from the basics.
Basics of Flying Cars
A flying car, as the name implies, is a vehicle that can be flown in the air and used on the roads. That means, it obviously has to have the basic characteristics of an aircraft (like propellers) and a car (like road tires). It would have to be light enough to fly in the air and strong enough to move on the road. Because a flying car would have the ability to land and drive, it would have to be able to take the impact of hitting the road and then moving on it uninterrupted, smoothly. Besides, it would have to be installed with additional safety features before being released for the public use.
Working of Modern Flying Cars
Though we commonly use ‘flying cars’ and ‘roadable aircraft’ as synonyms, they have a slight difference (which is easy to spot). Flying cars are cars adapted to fly while roadable aircraft are aircraft adapted to be used on the road. The inventors of the early flying cars worked more on adapting a car to fly in the air while the recent inventions of flying cars have been in adapting an aircraft for asphalt roads.
Whatever may be the case, a modern personal air vehicle will need to have the following modified features (all related to the basics discussed before):
These engines should have enough horsepower to lift the vehicle into the air and at the same time, be capable of providing controlled power for the vehicle to move on the road. The flying car will need to have an extra engine, if there is an engine failure during a flight.
Because the vehicle will be flying, it will obviously need the propellers (aircraft blades and wings) found on every aircraft. But as these wings will not be needed on the roads (obviously), they will have to be either easily detachable or foldable.
To land the flying car on the ground, it will have to be fitted with the essentials found in the cockpit of a normal aircraft. It would have to be able to take the impact from the road and be able to balance itself to be used on the road.
Needless to say, a flying car will have to be lightweight, yet have adequate ground mobility. While on the roads, a vehicle is more likely to be damaged but a slight damage on an aircraft can prove to be dangerous. So the material used in a flying car should be both light and strong.
A road vehicle needs greater flexibility than an aircraft. An aircraft needs to be aerodynamically designed for better flight. The conclusion? A flying car should be small enough to fit on the road and big enough to fly. The requirements increase if the said personal air vehicle has to be parked in a house garage!
If the oil crisis of the 90’s hadn’t occurred, Ford Motors would have marketed the world’s first flying car (Fulton’s Aerocar), at that time. The point here is, with the increase in fuel prices and decreased availability of fuels, a flying car will have to be run on eco-friendly, safe and inexpensive fuel, for better success in the market.
The reason aircraft manufactures haven’t invested much in trying to offer low-cost private aircraft has probably got to do something with safety issues related to flight. Air accidents are more dangerous and fatal than road accidents. So if the inventors of a flying car are aiming the market of the masses, they will have to make it safe. For that, they will have to include features like safety cages, air bags, parachutes and/or crush zones, etc., (yes, they will still have to watch their flying car’s weight!) in a personal air vehicle.
Being a pilot is not everyone’s piece of cake. If it were, the drop rates of Pilot Training in America wouldn’t be 50%. Add to that, the stringent rules laid by FAA for any pilot license and you have a major problem for companies that want to produce personal air vehicles. One way to avoid this is by making the vehicle fully computer controlled. Then the owner will have to put in the destination code or address in a GPS (or something similar) and the personal air vehicle will automatically fly to the destination. Apart from this, air control and airport help will also be required for the flying cars.
Because of all the requirements needed for it to work, a functional flying car might seem complicated and difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. For those who still think that flying cars are just a modern-day fad, here’s a thought: Horace Rackham (Henry Ford’s lawyer) was advised by the President of the Michigan Savings Bank that, “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad”, when he wanted to invest $5000 into the ‘automobile’ company in 1901. How the ‘fad’ earned more than 12 million dollars for Horace is history. The world, in all probability, will have flying cars in the air before the end of this decade.