Flying Cars Impractical

 Blader Runner car over LA

For anyone stuck in traffic having a flying car is the ultimate dream. It sounds like a good idea and looks so uber cool on film. Imagine zipping around the skies in a flying car like George Jetson or Doc Brown with his DeLorean in Back To The Future. You’re late for work, traffic has come to a halt on I-95 due to construction or some accident. But no problem! Shift your car to flight mode and off you go. Soar by all the rubberneckers and you make it in time to your meeting with minutes to spare.

Transition Production PrototypeThe problem with this concept is that flying cars are not practical, today. Yes, there are inventors fine tuning actual flying cars but they’re bound to be a novelty items at least for the near future. Actually, those so-called flying cars that are being tested now are really just mini-copters or airplanes with automobile features. They’re not hovercraft. Several companies that are testing practical flying cars include Terrafugia, Haynes Aero and Moller International. In fact, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a multi-million dollar program with Terrafugia to build flying  military vehicles.

Terrafugia car

You would think that with all these recent developments and press releases that flying cars are just around the corner. The truth is that people have been building prototypes going back decades, but the cars built just weren’t practical. And neither are the ones being tested now.

Skyjams

Let’s look at the traffic scenario from above. OK , you’re stuck in traffic and switch your car over to flight mode to escape congestion. That would be fine if you’re the only one with a flying car. More likely, many drivers around you would have flying cars as well and have the same idea as you.  Before you know it, the traffic will be following you into the sky. Then there’s coordinating the air traffic with all the cars suddenly going up into the air. It would be a chaotic, logistical headache and will probably lead to more accidents.

DeLorean in sky traffic

As shown in Back To The Future, Part II, Doc Brown had to deal with traffic in the air when he flew the DeLorean time vehicle. In fact, there’s this one scene where he complains about congestion in the skyway. The film showed that when flying, the cars had to follow a certain path. A driver won’t have free reign and space to just go anywhere. Actually, any pilot will tell you that planes and helicopters have rigid flight paths that they must adhere to; any deviation has to be cleared with air traffic control. Flying cars will also have to follow strict flight paths; in effect a skyway will be created with these paths. So if flying cars were to take off in popularity, the traffic congestion won’t go away. It may turn out to be faster to stay on the ground! Of course, there are some futurists that may scoff at this hurdle with claims that flying cars operate three dimensionally instead of today’s ground vehicles that operate two dimensionally. In theory, they claim that traffic jams would not be a problem for a vehicle operating in a three-dimensional plane but reality will probably dictate otherwise.

Air & Road Compatible

Another issue is that there are many dials and features on a plane that a pilot has to contend with so it’s more complicated to operate than a car. Remember when they showed the dashboard and controls in that flying spinner car in Blade Runner? It looked very complex. Then there is making sure the cars meets both road and air standards.  What about safety features? Convertibles are definitely out, which makes that flying car chase sequence in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones even more ludicrous. It’s one thing to have Obi-Wan Kenobi landing on Anakin Skywalker’s flying car unscathed or Anakin jumping out of it to get to the assassin’s vehicle; it can be explained that they used the Force to control their falls. But Anakin jumped out of a convertible, how safe would that vehicle be or practical without a helmet and mask? Just look at the old biplanes. The pilots in them had to wear helmets, goggles and warm clothing. All that wind up in the sky is cold and brutal, there isn’t any way anyone could operate an open-air flying car.

Star Wars flying car

What if something goes wrong? This won’t be like a normal car situation where the vehicle just stops working and you push it off to the side of the road. No, that thing is coming down. Perhaps an onboard computer will sound off an alarm if something is wrong with the car, forcing an emergency landing. But how trustworthy is that computer?

A look at the current prototypes will tell you that these things can’t easily fit into an average mall parking lot or garage. The flying features, i.e. the wings and propellers, have to be more compact to reduce the vehicles’ profile on the road. But how much can be reduced to operate safely in the air? All of this will add significantly to the price of the cars. Which means even if they came out tomorrow only the wealthy can afford them. Plus, what kind of fuel is to be used and its cost hasn’t been taken into account. Continue reading

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