Skip forward twenty years. You work in London and live on a remote island in the Scottish Highlands. A picturesque journey at a steady speed gets you to the office just over an hour after you left home.
Flying cars have been one of mankind’s great post-war dreams, although progress has been largely tempered by failure. For example, one of the first attempts, ConVair (an aeroplane strapped to the roof of a car), crash landed in the desert, never to fly again.
However, Californian aviation expert Moller International, has confounded expectations with a design for a flying car which works. SkyCar, a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle which cruises at 350mph, is the culmination of 30 years research by Dr Paul Moller.
His earliest attempts – flying saucers powered by giant fans – were able to take off but were too unstable and inefficient to be feasible. Then, in the late 1960s, he discovered the Wankel rotary engine, acquired the technology from its original owner, and developed his own air-cooled, high-performance rotapower engine. Moller designed a single rotor engine, weighing less than 45lb, capable of 65hp with a volume of only 1/2ft3.
It is this engine that is used on the M400 Skycar. Attached to fans, two counter-rotating engines are housed within each of the four nacelles, and the eight engines provide enough thrust to lift a full payload of four passengers. Improvement over earlier experiments was achieved by mounting the nacelles horizontally and using a thrust deflection system to ease the transition from hover to forward flight.
Thrust generated by the fans is deflected downwards by vanes at the rear of each nacelle. However, a considerable amount of lift is provided, not by the engines, but by the Skycar’s aerodynamic design.
Obviously, the nightmare scenario of thousands of people hurtling at random through the air must be avoided, and creating the infrastructure will be the biggest challenge. Skycars will use GPS to operate on precisely defined and monitored sets of airways with the user’ s control strictly limited.
There could, says Moller, be as many as 24 layers of `traffic’, each separated by a couple of hundred feet, and all travelling in different directions.
While car performance improves, speeds on main roads are plummeting and negating any advances that have been made. So is the answer to take our technology above the rooftops? Having put forward plans to build 3600 `vertiports’ the Japanese certainly think so. It remains to be seen if the will exists this strongly elsewhere.
Moller International Tel: +1 530 756 5086