Why would I want a flying car?

Why would I want a flying car?

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Flying cars

Flying cars

Let’s consider:  I live in Laporte, PA, and have an office in the Foresight suite in Menlo Park, CA. That’s a distance of about 2800 miles, and I could drive it in about 40 hours, a full working week.  That’s a substantial commute.

Of course, I don’t drive, but fly. I live within about 3 hours of a couple of airports, Philadelphia and Newark, that have non-stops to the Bay area. For various reasons I use Newark, but they’re roughly equivalent.  Driving to a local airport, checking in, flying to Newark, and changing flights takes longer than driving directly. (Believe me, I’ve tried it. Philly, in particular, is really bad for losing luggage.)

So the airliner, from gate to gate, takes about 6 hours for the flight, which is quite an improvement over 40. But we have to add the 3 hours driving in, 2 to get through security and check-in and boarding,  1 more for getting luggage and a rental car on the other end, and yet another 1 for driving to the hotel, the air trip takes a total of 13 hours.  If I had a flying car that went door to door, it would only have to travel 215 mph to beat the commercial carrier — and it would be a lot more comfortable, non-intrusive (I could carry nail clippers in my pocket and a bottle of spring water!), and allow me if I wanted to stop in Kansas City for ribs.

If you exclude my somewhat extreme situation — I’m a nature lover and live in the unspoiled mountains — cut 2 hours off the trip for the huddled masses living within an hour of a major airport, and another for cutting it close at check-in.  You still have a 10-hour trip, and your flying car is still better at 280 mph.

This is 70-year-old technology, folks. Frank Fuller, Jr. won the Bendix Trophy in 1939 at an average speed of 282.098 mph. Most WWII fighter planes did over 300. In ’46 a P-51 took the Bendix at 435.5 mph.

For shorter trips, the car advantage only gets bigger. To visit my mother in Nashville, I actually do drive the 13-hour trip — you can do it in a long arduous day or two easy ones. A 300 mph aircar would do it in under 3 hours. Within the same distance is almost all the Eastern Seaboard of the US (and as far west as Chicago) and the vast majority of the population of Canada. And yet there is nowhere I can fly commercially in the same time, from my house.

If I had a flying car, I could visit my mom twice a month instead of twice a year.

By | 2017-06-01T14:05:24+00:00 August 19th, 2009|Nanodot, Transportation|19 Comments

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  2. James Gentile August 19, 2009 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Flying cars, as typically imagined, are a really stupid idea.

    Yes, it would be cool to do what you said, but however, imagine 10 million flying cars, going 250mph, in a space confined to the area of new york city, and extending about 10 miles above it, with skyscrapers all over the place. We’d have a 9/11/2001 incident every day, with drunks and teens talking on phones colliding into sky scrapers at 1/3rd mach 1, it’d be total mayhem and a never ending series of disasters. This is why flying cars are a ‘stupid idea.’ To have flying cars, you need technology which doesn’t break down or run out of gas at 2 miles up (nanotech) and something to guide it and make sure it never collided with anything (AI). And once AI and nanotech are here, flying cars will seem like small potatoes. If people put some serious thought into their ideas, they’d be a lot better off, because those are just a couple reasons off the top of my head why we will never have flying cars, before nanotech and AI are developed, I’m sure there are many more good reasons not to have them.

    Unfortunately the people who originally sold the public on the idea of flying cars had no clue about what they were talking about, and now we have to deal will the ‘flying car phenomenon” – which is basically the fact that future technologies can not realistically be discussed because some clown always chimes in “I was promised flying cars 50 years ago, so obviously your ideas about the future are not going to happen either…”, while totally ignorant of the danger and stupiditiy of flying cars.

  3. Ron Fischer August 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Air traffic control within major cities has been studied a number of times, not least by NASA. Liability barriers keep established companies from even considering production of such a vehicle. However, Josh’s goal only requires a private aircraft, and flying “cars” would evolve from these. The question is can we produce AI that’s just smart enough to reduce the arduous process of achieving a private pilot’s license? Leaving aside the thrilling combination of flying cars in skyscraper canyons, there are more achievable near-term goals.

  4. Jay Dugger August 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    James Gentile,

    “Flying cars” have indeed spawned a cliche, just as the moon landings spawned the cliche of “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we do ‘X’?” The idea of the flying car, which should get read as an affordable, reliable, easy-to-fly personal aircraft does have great appeal.

    Such aircraft do not require super materials to make them safe nor artificially intelligent machines to handle their air traffic control. Modern materials and contemporary avionics–both commericially available now–will do just fine. Companies such as Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, Gulfstream, Falcon, GE, and Honda all have products available today that suffice. I handle such things every day in my job at a flight school. Cost still matters, and I don’t know whether mass production would really drive down prices to the level where “flying cars” as defined above would make economic sense.

    Your claims of drunken pilots, distracted teens, frequent accidents, and especially the phrase “run out of gas at 2 miles up” need not happen. Avionics can forbid engines from starting without sufficient fuel for that compelete flight plan based on current weather forecasts loaded aboard. Simple logical interlocks require no advances in technology. Paying for the cost of the fuel lies beyond the scope of this post, and so do the regulatory reform needed in Air Traffic Control, pilot qualifications, and insurance.

    In short, regulatory capture, bureaucratic inertia, and an informal labor cartel do more to hold back the flying car than even fuel costs.

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  7. James Gentile August 20, 2009 at 5:23 am - Reply

    I still think it’s just a stupid idea. If your car breaks down, it rolls slowly to the shoulder, or maybe you get in an accident in which a few people are killed. A flying car would decend at over a hundred mph and could collide into vulnerable high value targets and kill a lot more people, if for instance it collided into a packed stadium or high school or pre-school, which could result in dozens of deaths or maybe an oil refinery or sensitive govt buildings, and why, so people can travel to work in 5 minutes instead of half an hour? Not to mention the terrorists would have a field day, and so on. Terrible idea, imo. And if you tried to lock down the system to be safe, the aclu and so on would scream bloody murder over privacy rights.

    All I know, is if flying cars take off I’m moving to antartica or someplace else so remote I’ll never see one.

  8. Mike G August 20, 2009 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    I want a flying car, but I don’t trust anyone else with them. The cemeteries will be filled with people who dropped out of the sky while texting. And the people they fell on. And the people killed when al-Qaeda drives 50 of them into the Sears Tower.

  9. AST August 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Buy a plane. For flying cars to work, they’ll have to be made idiot proof, which means having a computerized flight control system that covers the whole country.

  10. John C. Randolph August 20, 2009 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    What will make flying cars feasible is advances in computer software. James Gentile’s objections simply don’t apply, if the vehicle is fully robotic. You’d still have controls, but the vehicle simply wouldn’t let you fly it into a building or another aircraft.


  11. Micah August 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    step 1: get your pilot’s license, with an IFR rating.
    step 2: buy an airplane
    step 3: ????
    step 4: profit

    why do you even need this absurd car/plane idea?

  12. TMLutas August 20, 2009 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    From a systemic point of view, the flying car will be practical when the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure for it is substantially or completely offset by the savings in maintaining and building out ground infrastructure for the equivalent vehicles.

    Semi-autonomous flying cars who report in an electronic flight plan moments before takeoff to a computer that clears them an appropriate corridor in seconds are what the doctor ordered. The benefits are improved economic connectivity, lower systemic costs (lost time in traffic, lower infrastructure costs), less infringement on personal liberties with security searches and lower carnage when things go wrong.

    Many of the objections here and on the subsequent contra column are behind the times. Planes small enough to be labeled flying cars can be equipped with whole plane parachutes. Crashes would be much more survivable and a directional siren and bright flashing light would let everybody know to get out of the way and not let one land on you. This is proven technology available today.

    The FAA has committed to creating a flight control system which would support semi-autonomous flight and sufficient to support those millions of flying cars over New York City. That they are abysmally late and over budget is something separate. It is considered a hard, but solvable, engineering problem. Eventually it will be solved, either by the current government system or by the government setting reasonable standards and privatizing control (as private ATC happens in much of the Pacific).

    A system that can automate the filing of a flight plan and clearing out a corridor can certainly do fuel calculations based on reported fuel levels and simply refuse the flight plan without a stop at a refueling station at a safe intermediate distance. Talk about running out of fuel in mid-air is not realistic as the computer is going to be able to calculate distance flown from last fueling as well as getting an instrument read of how much fuel is in the tank. Divergence leads to a mandatory repair stop.

    I have to say that the biggest problem is the failure of imagination of our government to set the rules necessary for the development of this technology. Instead they stand in the way both with legal liability rules as well with ATC rules. The government has a role and it is not doing its job very well.

  13. LancairPilot August 20, 2009 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Your trip length is a bit longer than typical. Most are under 500 miles, and my 200mph airplane can do that door-to-door in around 3 hours. There are 15,000 airports in the country. Who needs the necessary compromises of a flying car when there are so many landing places, even in small towns hours from the nearest airline airport?

    What *is* required is a massive ramp up in general aviation traffic that will push for genuinely modern navigation, and dramatically lower the costs of hardware at the same time. If they built 50,000 airplanes a year, a high performance job would cost less than an SUV. Believe it or not, they’re not nearly as complicated, and if the engine quits, there are parachutes available for the whole airplane.

    Google the NASA project “AGATE” (Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments). They had it figured out how to use on-board computers for ATC and navigation that a low-time pilot could use in all weather situations, in high traffic environments required to lower the cost.

    I’m flying from AZ to NE Colorado in the morning. It would be an 18 hour drive, but I should be there before noon. No anal exam at the airport, and I leave direct from my hangar-house at a private airport. If more people did this, it would be cheaper for all of us.

    Just Do It.

  14. Brian Epps August 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Until we crack gravity, you can forget about the flying cars. Unless we have a reliable counter-grav, the concept is far too dangerous.

  15. plutosdad August 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    “If your car breaks down, it rolls slowly to the shoulder, or maybe you get in an accident in which a few people are killed. A flying car would decend at over a hundred mph and could collide into vulnerable high value targets and kill a lot more people, if for instance it collided into a packed stadium or high school or pre-school”

    what? Cars ram into buildings full of people too, especially in cities. They don’t only die out when no one is around.

    Secondly you are wrong, engines dying don’t mean planes plummet to the ground. Most planes can glide to a landing. Even helicopters are capable of gliding, more properly known as “auto rotation”, and can safely land after their engine dies. All we’d have to do is our flying cars would have to have aerofoils large enough.

  16. Mark Laskow August 21, 2009 at 5:05 am - Reply

    There is a more mundane reason why skycars don’t fill our urban skies: the laws of aerodynamics. I fly a conventional small aircraft (Mooney 252) highly optimized to produce about 200 mph out of 220 horsepower. It requires a 2,000 ft. runway, minimum. The additional power or specialized propeller (a helicopter rotor) required for vertical takeoff would be grossly inefficient for cross-country flight. Aviation does not lack for dreamers, and there is certainly a market for a “skycar’s” performance in many uses, but no one has been able to build one. Physical reality matters.

  17. Loki1 August 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    This tired idea keeps getting trotted out and dusted off from time to time. One could be polite and call it a silly one, or one could be realistic and call it profoundly stupid–not to mention damgerous.

    My old logbook isn’t handy, but I can safely say I totaled well over 500 flying hours, and retired with an FAA commercial certificate
    and an instrument rating. The FAA required (A) passing a written exam for
    each of the above, (B) an endorsement by my
    licensed instructor, and (C) a test flight under an wxacting FAA examiner.

    Those qualifications were earned after well over 50 hours of some ground and flight training, with nearly as much book and regulations study. The instrument exam required donning a hood during the entire flight after takeoff. Under it, you could see nothing outside the cockpit; you flew, using only the information you derived from those instruments.

    Every other pilot so rated had passed these tests. And every pilot flying in weather below specified minimums had to have filed an instrument flight plan; and to be in
    contact with Air Traffic Control at all times.

    Now consider millions of cars–not to mention trucks(!)–tooling through the air. Driven by those same swell drivers who swerve in front of you with no signal, or jump out from a side road, unfettered by any rules.
    And certainly not trained to the degree of licensed pilots. Would you honestly like to be up there among them?

  18. Monday Links 8/24/09 | The Clumsy Fly August 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    […] 2009, WHERE’S MY FLYING CAR?:  Links to reasons for and against flying […]

  19. Abraham Bidez April 27, 2010 at 10:47 pm - Reply


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