Spark Blog Notes from the Spark Team

April 10, 2012

Is That a Flying Car in Your Garage?

There have been many failed predictions about the future, but perhaps none so elusive as a George Jetson-style flying car. Now two companies are working to bring that dream to life.

The Transition Street-Legal Airplane, developed by Woburn, Massachusetts-based Terrafugia, is billed as “a two seat personal aircraft capable of driving on roads and highways, parking in a single car garage, and flying with unleaded automotive fuel.”

The production prototype recently took its first flight. The pilot drove it to Plattsburgh International Airport, extended the folding wings and flew for eight minutes, reaching an altitude of 1,400 feet. Then he made a smooth landing, retracted the wings and drove on down the road.

In the Netherlands, the prototype Personal Air and Land Vehicle (PAL-V) has also taken off on a test flight. Created by a company called PAL-V Europe, in partnership with the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory and others, it’s a hybrid design that looks something like a cross between a small car, a large motorcycle and a tiny helicopter. 

Like its American cousin, the PAL-V is a two-seater that runs on ordinary gasoline. But one big difference is that it’s a gyroplane, which employs an innovative “tilting system” that unfolds a rotor and propeller as needed. One advantage to this design is the ability to “auto-rotate” in the event of an engine failure in flight. When that happens, the rotor continues to turn, allowing the pilot to make a controlled descent and hopefully glide to safety.

The company says the PAL-V can reach speeds of up to 112 mph both on land and in the air, and that on the ground, it runs like a sports car. In the air, it is designed to fly below 4,000 feet and boasts very short takeoff and landing capabilities.

For those of us who grew up watching all those scratchy classroom videos predicting the future, the dream of a flying car brings to mind lots of exciting visions that never quite materialized. But even if he Transition or the PAL-V fails to live up to the hype of transforming personal transportation, credit is due to both teams for doing their part to dream big and aim high—really high. George Jetson would be proud. 

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