Another Step Closer to a Flying Motorhome?

A flying motorhome may be part of our new reality sooner than you think—or at least we can all dream.

It’s another day, and another flying car. Hopes of the Age of the Flying Car were recently renewed with news that the Terrafugia Transition® Roadable Aircraft was deemed roadworthy by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Artists's conception of myCopter Flying Car. (Crecit: mycopter.eu)

Now, another flying car is in the limelight, bringing the possibility of Personal Aerial Vehicles (PAVs) even closer to reality.

So are we really approaching an era of flying cars?

A new vehicle with the creative name of myCopter is being touted as a solution to the ever present problem of road congestion.

The European Union is investing €4.2 million (US$6.2 million) to investigate the possibility of introducing PAVs into the skies of Europe’s most congested cities. The idea is for myCopter to attempt to solve the numerous problems that could potentially arise from futuristic flying cars.

This coming age of the “flying car” where vehicles leave the roads and launch into the skies promises to solve problems like dramatically rising urban traffic congestion, but it also throws up some formidable challenges that the myCopter project attempts to address.

According to Prof Heinrich Bülthoff of the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, the project aims “to develop technologies that could be used to form a new transportation system for personal travel that uses the third dimension, and which takes into account questions surrounding the expectations of potential users and how the public would react to and interact with such a system.”

They envision myCopter as part of a network of flying vehicles— a controlled network, that is. Imagine a cable car system translated into an air system—the myCopters would be programmed to follow formations and avoid obstacles. That may take away from the fun of flying, but isn’t safety is a more important consideration?

An artist's conception of a myCopter cockpit. (Crecit: mycopter.eu)

The last thing I want to experience is a myCopter plummeting from the sky and putting a permanent crater in my motorhome while enjoying a Shiner Bock with friends!

The myCopter project envisions that the PAVs and PATS (personal air transport systems) would initially be used to fly at low altitudes for domestic travel between homes and working places.

The idea is for PAVs to be partially or fully autonomous, doing away with the need for air traffic control, which is currently required for airplanes and helicopters.

By flying below 2,000 feet, the new traffic system hopes to operate outside of this controlled airspace, without ground-based traffic control, and without impacting on existing air traffic.

Whilst the concept sounds very appealing, considerable hurdles remain to be tackled involving aerospace legislation, security, and town planning related to landing, taking-off, and parking.

“Security issues are an important topic that requires extensive attention when the vision of the myCopter project becomes reality, but we foresee that automation will play a big and important role in the entire transportation system,” explains Dr. Bülthoff. “Therefore it could be highly likely that no-flight zones that PAVs simply could not fly in will be designed, because the automation that is onboard will not allow the vehicle to be directed towards these zones.”

myCopter is also likely to reduce greenhouse emissions in the long run because the flight path is more direct making trips more efficient. Researchers on the project estimate that trips will be shorter than 62 miles in length—allowing the vehicles to go entirely electric.

“Already now there are technology demonstrators such as the eCO2Avia from EADS that show that electrically powered vertical flight is possible, even though a diesel generator is currently still required to charge the batteries for sustained flight,” added Dr. Bülthoff.

The myCopter project aims to pave the way for PAVs to be used by the general public within the context of such a transport system.

The project consortium consists of experts that can make the technology advancements necessary for a viable PATS, and a partner to assess the impact of the envisioned PATS on society (socio-technological evaluation). To this end, test models of handling dynamics for potential PAVs will be designed and implemented on unmanned aerial vehicles, motion simulators, and a manned helicopter. In addition, an investigation into the human capability of flying a PAV will be conducted, resulting in a user-centered design of a suitable human-machine interface (HMI).

Furthermore, the project will introduce new automation technologies for obstacle avoidance, path planning, and formation flying, which also have potential for other aerospace applications. This project is a unique integration of technological advancements and social investigations that are necessary to move public transportation into the third dimension.

Currently, there are no plans to build a prototype vehicle, but simulators would be built by the year 2014. Stay tuned.

Worth Pondering…
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller

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Futuristic RV: Flying Motorhome?

Unlike most light aircraft, the Terrafugia Transition® Roadable Aircraft needs automotive technology such as crumple zones and dual airbags to remain roadworthy. And like a car—or an expensive one, anyway—the Transition features a carbon fiber safety cage and takes unleaded gasoline, albeit high-octane. Hey, airplanes aren’t cheap.

The Terrafugia flying car, of course! This “roadable” aircraft is for real and not just a creation of an imaginative mind immersed in the world of science fiction. (Credit: Terrafugia)

The Transition could allow pilots to land early and drive to their destination if they encounter bad weather, as the car has a 500-mile range.

According to Terrafugia, it “combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings with the ability to drive on any surface road in a modern personal airplane platform.”

Its 27-foot wings can fold in less than a minute, and can reach 115 mph in the air and 65 mph on the roads. Drivers can convert it from a two-seater road car to a plane in less than 30 seconds with the touch of a button.

It doesn’t have a gearstick, but on the road can be controlled with brake and accelerator pedals and a steering wheel like an ordinary car. In the air it is operated with a joystick near the steering wheel.

Prospective owners will need plenty of space for their new toy—it requires 1,700 feet of road for take-off.

Wanna get your kicks flying over Route 66? (Credit: Terrafugia)

Its creators say the vehicle is easy to keep and run because it can fit into a normal car garage and uses regular gas.

It measures 19 feet in length and just 5 feet 6 inches in width when the wings are folded up.

And so far, how many people have sprung for this proof-of-concept?

At $250,000, the first 100 orders have all been accounted for.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

It’s a car. It can fly. What else do you want?

Well, maybe a flying motorhome!

There is the issue of weight, of course, especially for snowbirds and fulltime RVers.

The Terrafugia can fly with a maximum weight of 330 pounds. That includes the passengers AND the payload. Now 330 pounds of carrying capacity isn’t a lot these days! Maybe it’s time for that diet. Less Blue Bell ice cream, possibly.

Terrafugia Transition® Roadable Aircraft. The proof of concept is on the road. (Credit: Terrafugia)

In spite of the issues, the Terrafugia might just become the granddaddy of flying cars that future generations will take for granted. In the meantime, start saving money and losing weight to make sure the Terrafugia works out for you!

The Transition is definitely a very cool idea, though, and unlike most flying cars it has actually flown.

I wish Terrafugia well—but plan to hold out for the inevitable Flying Motorhome.

The Flying Car’s Specs

Cost: $250,000

Length: 19 feet

Width: 5 feet 6 inches when wings are folded; 27 feet when open

What do you get when you combine the design of an airplane and the design of a car? (Credit: Terrafugia)

Top road speed: 65 mph

Top air speed: 115 mph

Range in air: 500 miles on one 20-gallon tank of fuel

Power: 100 hp four-stroke engine

Details

Terrafugia, Inc.

Terrafugia (terra-FOO-gee-ah), based in Woburn, MA, is small aerospace company founded by pilot/engineers from MIT and supported by a world-class network of advisors and private investors. Terrafugia’s mission is the innovative expansion of personal mobility. “Terrafugia” is Latin for “escape from land.”

Related

Worth Pondering…
Strive for perfection in everything you do.
Take the best that exists and make it better.
When it does not exist, design it.

—Sir Henry Royce

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The Future Is Here: Escape the Earth

The future is officially with us. Well it is almost upon us.

Another flying car attempts liftoff—alert the staff at Popular Mechanics. (Credit: extremetech.com)

When pigs fly! That’s the conclusion you’d draw from 75 years of magazine covers promising that the flying car was just around the corner.

But hope springs eternal.

Welcome to the future our forefathers were dreaming about: the world’s first flying car is finally here! Well, you still need a runway, or at least, sort of.

Flying Car Cleared for Highway Use

The first flying car has come closer to lift-off after being granted road safety exemptions that will allow it to be used both on the road and in the air—and that brings delivery to the first customer closer to reality.

That’s right—the only flying car you can buy today has just been approved for highway driving by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The organization granted a special exemption for the Terrafugia Transition, under the provision of “roadable aircraft.”

Terrafugia (ter-ra-FOO-gee-ah), Inc., of Woburn, Massachusetts was founded in 2006 by award-winning MIT-trained aeronautical engineers and MBAs who also happen to be private pilots. Terrafugia is derived from the Latin for “Escape the Earth”.

Terrafugia flying car gets road-safety exemptions. (Credit: Terrafugia)

The company’s mission is to provide innovative solutions to the challenges facing personal aviation. The result is the Transition® Roadable Aircraft.

Terrafugia’s latest step forward was receipt of an exemption from NHTSA June 30 allowing airplane-style lighter polycarbonate window material instead of heavier safety glass used in cars. Terrafugia says polycarbonate would withstand the impact of birds better than auto glass.

In the exemption text, NHTSA states: “We further conclude that the granting of an exemption from these requirements would be in the public interest and consistent with the objectives of traffic safety.”

Fly and Drive

The Transition has an exemption allowing for tires that are “appropriate” for multi-purpose (that is, fly-and-drive) vehicles.

Earlier it received a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waiver allowing the Transition to weigh 110 pounds more than the normal legal limit for light sport aircraft category. It also meets all applicable car crash standards, the company states.

A prototype Transition was first test-flown and test-driven in 2009, which puts it ahead of most other flying cars that never flew, except as the illustrations on the covers of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. The company says it’s different because of the availability of lightweight composites that didn’t exist a generation ago.

Terrafugia Transition brings Chitty Chitty Bang Bang closer to reality. (Credit: Terrafugia)

The Transition is classified as a Light Sport Aircraft and requires a Sport Pilot license to fly. That means you need a pilot’s license, but a kind that’s easier to acquire than a private pilot’s license used with planes such as the Cessna 172 and 182. It would fly out of small airports, anything with 1,700 feet of runway (versus 5,000 to 10,000-foot runways for commercial airports).

The wings fold twice per side, once at the wing root where it meets the fuselage and once in the middle; that takes 30 seconds, about the same as putting up the convertible top on a car.

The same engine drives the car through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the airplane propeller through a carbon fiber shaft.

Terrafugia says deliveries will begin in 2012 and it’s tentatively priced at around $250,000, about the same amount of money as an entry level diesel pusher. Terrafugia is taking reservations with a $10,000 refundable deposit, and says it already has roughly 100 orders.

According to its website, Terrafugia’s philosophy is “to design a vehicle for pilots that brings additional ground capability to an airplane instead of attempting to make a car fly… The Transition isn’t designed to replace anyone’s car, but it could replace your airplane.”

That viewpoint means you’d fly the Transition close to where you intend to go, land at one of the nation’s 5,000 private airports, then you could drive the last few miles to an RV park, vacation home, or resort.

In really crappy weather, you could set the Transition down early and drive the final 100 miles to your destination.

Now, that’s my idea of a hybrid.

To be continued…

Worth Pondering…
If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.

If you can dream it, you can become it.

—William Arthur Ward

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