It’s time to finally kill the idea of a flying car once and for all. The idea of a flying car has been a dream of many people since the invention of the airplane and the automobile in the early 1900s, but alas, the concept has never proven to be practical. The fantasy has persisted, probably because traffic has only gotten worse, and frustrated drivers wished their car could sprout wings and soar above the earth-bound masses stuck in grid lock. While several versions of a flying car have been built and flown (see the Aerocar in the 1940’s), and more recently the Terrafugia, none have ever been produced in numbers or proven to be economically practical to the average person. In fact the few designs that have flown turned out to be a poor compromise – not a very good car or a very good aircraft. With rapidly advancing technology in drones, electric aircraft, and autonomous, on-demand cars, I believe the quest for a “flying car” has been OBE (Overcome By Events).
There are several recent developments, backed by deep pockets such as Google, that may be able to provide point-to-point transportation, especially in urban areas, using V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off & Landing) electrically-powered Personal Air Vehicles (as NASA prefers to call them). While these PAV’s will land at designated V/STOL ports scattered throughout urban areas, the PAV would NOT convert to a ground vehicle. To get you the “final mile” to your destination, you will just summon a car-sharing service (like Uber) with your smart phone to reach the door step of the place or person you are visiting. Just as the on-demand car will drop you off and seek out other customers, so too will the PAV that got you close to your destination. Soon these car-sharing services will be fully autonomous as most likely will the PAV, as it takes off to fly elsewhere to retrieve another passenger. Even now, with rapidly expanding use of on-demand driving services, most folks with a small plane flying into conventional airports can already use these car-sharing services to get to their final destination. So no need to have the capability, let along the complexity, cost and compromises, of a plane that converts to a car.
As I followed the rapidly advancing drone technology these past few years, I speculated that it was just a matter of time before the multi-rotor drones being flown by hobbyists would be scaled up to carry a person or persons. We’re not quite there yet, but getting close. Check out this recent video of a hexadecacopter (16 electric motors and propellers) lifting a person well off the ground. The future of PAVs, in conjunction with autonomous ground transportation, is within view. Unfortunately lazy, misinformed journalists still like to use the nomenclature “Flying Cars”, as it’s always a good attention-grabbing headline. But from what I see of the future, it’s finally time to bury that phrase, and concept, for good.