Nov 7, 2008

Why the 'Autovolantor' Flying Ferrari Will Fail

Did you see the news this week? An entrepreneur is building the ultimate flying car.

The Autovolantor is a Ferrari 599 GTB designed to vertically take off and land, soar to 5,000 feet and fly for 75 miles. Designer Bruce Calkins expects the flying car's ability to "quick hop" out of traffic (meaning that if you get into a traffic jam you can just fly out of it) is appealing enough to inspiring funding. Best of all, backers claim it could be "a reality" within two years.

If all that sounds credible to you, then I've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in. You can use it as a runway.


1. None of the inventor's previous "flying cars" ever made it to market as promised, and he's been working on them for 40 years. The Moller Skycar was built from the ground up to serve as a flying car, and never really got beyond a tethered hovering demo. The subsequent M200G Volantor, launched last year, was promised for an early 2008 launch. Where is it?

2. It violates the laws of physics. Previous attempts were built from the ground up for lightness, aerodynamic design and mostly for flying, and they never flew. A Ferrari is all wrong for an airplane. Why would a boxy, heavy car with road tires succeed where the sleek, airplane like designs that came before failed? Airplanes are built from the ground up for ultra-lightness and are carefully designed to minimize drag. It's really hard to design a safe airplane. Bolting wings on a Ferrari and expecting it to fly simply defies logic.

3. It violates the laws of the FAA. It's against the law, for example, to take off or land from a public road. So much for the touted "quick hop" scenario. Anything that flies has to operate fully licensed and according to airspace rules, which include minimum altitudes unless you're taking off or landing at a real airport. There's weather, power lines, weight-and-balance issues that experienced pilots sweat over in light-weight, carefully designed aircraft. The flying scenarios people imagine are all against the law. The "flying car" concept loses its luster once you realize that you can only legally take off and land from airports or approved private runways; that you must be an experienced licensed pilots certificated and current to fly this kind of exotic aircraft; that before you fly, you've got to check the weather, file a flight plan, make contact with and get clearance from air traffic control and do all the things pilots in real airplanes have to do. There simply will be no hopping over traffic.

Mark my words: This thing won't "become a reality" in two years or ten.