Flying cars get DARPA boost

Need to hop over roadside bombs may finally be the needed catalyst for aircraft–auto combo.

By Marvin Cetron
Pres, Forecasting Intl

DARPA Transformer flying Humvee will carry 4 people up to 250 nm and be flyable with relatively little training.

Flying cars, like fusion power and diet bacon, are one of those great ideas that never quite reach the market. As a result, nearly a century after Glenn Curtiss built the 1917 Autoplane and 63 years after FAA certified Robert Fulton's pioneering FA2 Airphibian, the only way to fly a licensed automobile is to talk retired publisher Ed Sweeny out of one of his 2 airworthy Taylor Aerocars.

Good luck with that. As a teen in Longview WA, Sweeney got his 1st flying lesson from Moulton Taylor in one of the Aerocars Sween­ey now owns. He has been in love with them ever since. The one he bought in 2012 had an asking price of $1.25 million.

There are other options, of course, but most of them are still in development and facing unexpected delays.

The Maverick is only the 2nd vehicle to receive both FAA certification and a state license plate for road travel. (The first was the Aerocar, in 1956.) Built by Beyond Roads of Dunellon FL, the craft is a dune buggy with a 190-hp Subaru engine, a pusher prop and a base price of $94,000. It weighs less than 1000 lbs.

On the ground, it reaches 60 mph in just 3.9 sec and has a range of 450 miles. In the air, it hangs beneath a large parasail, cruising at 35 kts for up to 3 hrs. It takes off and lands in 300 ft.

Although the Maverick has 3 seats, it usually carries only the pilot and passenger. For road trips, its folded parasail occupies the 3rd position. A nonprofit called the Indigenous People's Technology and Education Center developed this ultimate offroad vehicle for use in the backcountry of Africa and other places where highways are scarce.

Unfortunately, the Maverick has been grounded. This May 10, the company's 5th aircraft crashed on approach to landing at YVK (Vernon BC, Canada). "It was just a sharp left turn that turned into a spiral," reports Ray Sebring, who was at the controls. "The spiral took at least 3 turns." Onlookers said the parasail had collapsed.

1917 Curtiss Autoplane, powered by a 100-hp OXX engine, carried 3 but never made it out of ground effect.

As the vehicle started losing altitude, Sebring noticed a school full of children directly in his path. "We were able to stop the rotation," Sebring says, "but our altitude was critically low. I gave full power to dampen the forced landing and directed the aircraft ... away from the school and into some woods."

The craft smashed through a fence at the edge of the school property and wound up at the base of a tree, its parasail tangled in the branches overhead. Pilot and passenger suffered only minor cuts and bruises.

Because the Maverick is not licensed as an aircraft in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are officially in charge of the ongoing investigation. The company itself is trying to figure out what went wrong.

The most ambitious flying car company must be Terrafugia, of Woburn MA. Founded just 6 years ago by 6 recent graduates from MIT, the firm has already begun planning its 2nd model. This will be a 4-place VTOL called the TF-X, tentatively set to fly some time in 2021.
By comparison, the company's 1st model is relatively conventional in both its operating modes.

The 2-passenger, folding-wing Transition is powered by its rear wheels on the road and a pusher prop in the air. It cruises at 93 kts in the air, with a maximum speed of 100 kts and a range of 425 nm. It burns 5 gph in the air and gets 35 mpg on the ground. It will even come with airbags.

However, the Terrafugia Transition, originally scheduled for 1st delivery in 2011, has been delayed—again. In Jun 2011, the company announced that customer deliveries would be pushed off to "late 2012." In Jan 2013, the company said it might be necessary to build a 3rd prototype, owing to the large number of modifications the Transition required. The latest announcement, on May 8, said the Transition would finally be available in 2015 at a price of $279,000.

By the end of 2012, the company had received $10,000 deposits from more than 100 customers eager to fly or drive off in a vehicle that can do either.

Whirling wings

Fulton Airphibian, FAA certified in 1950, carried 2. It converted between air and road in under 5 min.

The PAL-V One is a sleek 2-place, 3-wheeled tandem gyrocopter being developed by PAL-V Europe, of Raamsdonksveer, in the Netherlands. It can take off in 540 ft and land within 100 ft.

The rotor mast and tail mount fold up or down at the press of a button. Tail surfaces are then moved into position by hand. The entire transition from ground to air configuration takes less than 10 min.

Aerocar, by Molt Taylor, was 1 of 6 flying 2-seaters built from 1949 through 1968. Two remain airworthy.

The aircraft's specifications include an empty weight of 1500 lbs and a gross weight of about 2000 lbs. A 230-hp engine will push the craft to 60 mph on the road in less than 8 sec with a top speed of 112 mph. Driving range is 750 miles with a fuel economy of 28 mpg.

Waterman Aerobile, whose prototype, the Arrowplane, won the famed 1934
"flying flivver" competition.

In the air, performance is still inviting. Top speed is 97 kts, with a minimum level-flight speed of just 27 kts. Range is 220–315 miles, depending on the model variant, with a burn rate of 9.5 gph.

The PAL-V made its 1st flight in 2012. Targets for certification, delivery date and pricing have yet to be announced. Expected markets include emergency services, nongovernmental organizations, and perhaps the military, but private fliers are welcome.


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