We keep checking items off the flying-car to-do list

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

There’s still plenty left to be done on the flying-car to-do list, but the first seven items can now be crossed off (to some degree):

  1. Vertical take-off and landing of small electric multirotor vehicles
  2. Conversion in the air to regular fixed-wing flight
  3. Energy efficient fixed wing flight
  4. Electric, battery powered flight long enough for urban and suburban travel
  5. Getting a great deal quieter than existing helicopters
  6. Development efforts at hundreds of companies, including most major aircraft manufacturers
  7. Some automation
  8. Commercial release of experimental piloted versions.
  9. Air traffic control system to manage many thousands of flights
  10. Getting both old and new vehicles to work in the new ATC regimen
  11. Full automation
  12. Change of FAA and other air regulations to allow commercial deployment
  13. Sufficient safety and reliability levels to satisfy the public, with no need for constant maintenance and extensive pre-flight checking
  14. Mass production at reasonable costs
  15. Building places to land, or landing in existing parking lots
  16. Reducing noise levels to those tolerable in residential areas
  17. Public acceptance
  18. Lighter batteries, for enough range for exurban and short intercity trips


  1. Freddo says:

    I’d add “operate across wide spectrum of weather conditions” to the list.

  2. Kirk says:

    I give the flying car odds of success at about zero, TBH. It’s all sunshine and puppies, right until people start having the idiot neighbor crash into their houses from a couple of thousand feet in the air. The impact from widespread uptake of flying car technology is going to imply a sudden interest in building your houses underground, and well-protected from falling individual transportation.

    I live on a leg of a 90-degree corner. Not at the base of the turn, but along a leg. The neighbor who lives at the base rues the day he purchased that real estate, and I suspect he’d move if he could sell. In the last four months, there have been at least 8 different times that cars have run off the road and nearly careened into his living room or bedroom.

    It’s entertaining to watch, but horrifying to contemplate living like that. Bring on the flying cars, and we’re all going to be in his shoes, only worse.

    Truthfully, I don’t think they’re ever going to crack that code, and if there’s ever a real market for such things, the implication is going to be that we have a much smaller and more spread out population than we have now. Out in rural Missouri or Kansas, a flying car starts to make a lot of sense. Suburban San Diego, or Seattle…? LOL. Yeah, even if the NIMBYs don’t block it, the implications are quite entertaining.

  3. Wan Wei Lin says:

    Flying cars? That has Elon Musk written all over it especially if Uncle Sam subsidizes them like the hybrids and electrics.

  4. Bruce says:

    Before interstates, cars were lighter. Before reliable cars, people expected to have a mule step on their foot or kick them in the head now and then. There was an open possibility around 1920-1930 when an all-canvas, extendable wing flying car might have sold. Now, with drones trying new designs, the possibility is opening again.

  5. Albion says:

    More than 50 years ago the popular science magazines were full of the ideas of personal (or family-sized) helicopters. It was a grand fantasy, given how much maintenance a helicopter needs to keep it airworthy (as well as space to land and store it when not in use). Add to that the standard of car driving — and cars have been very familiar ‘tools’ for a long time without any noticeable increase in common-sense — the future looked grim by having people drop in on you unexpectedly.

    You can imagine the terror of a walk down street in a world where you need to look down for dog crap, left and right for vehicles and bikes — especially in a place like London where cyclists disregard any traffic controls — as well as up to see if it is safe to proceed each step of the way. Add to that the predilection of terrorists (many of who now not only live among you but are paid by the state with money provided by your taxes) to make use of vehicles as weapons, they would regard the ability to fly over crowds of non-believers plus government and historic buildings as too good an opportunity to pass up.

    The seemingly innocent 1950s and ’60s might not have imagined how dangerous flying vehicles might be, but we have a pretty good idea today.

  6. Kirk says:

    I can see a relatively small market for them, but I honestly don’t see everybody flying around in them like cars today. If they become a reality, the uptake is going to be slow–You’ll probably see more “air cab”-like services, with professional operators and maintainers backing up the aerial cars, and use outside the cities start first. A rural dweller probably has more need for this kind of thing, anyway–In the urban areas, the already-existent transportation systems are likely to remain the primary means of transportation.

    There’s a lot of practical infrastructure that would need to be in place, as well–Ubiquitous air traffic control that goes down to the fine-grain of controlling model aircraft and personally-owned drones. Imagine trying to take your air car into a neighborhood where those things aren’t controlled or accounted for in any way. Ooopsie…

    It may become technically feasible to build the air car long before it becomes socially workable.

  7. I’d like to see people make flight plans every time they leave the house.

  8. Kirk says:

    Illustrative of why the flying car will never work until there are extreme changes in air traffic control:


    These are glider pilots. Guys who are supposedly switched-on enough to grasp that flying in a virtually invisible-to-radar unpowered aircraft might just be an issue in the flight corridors surrounding one of the busiest military airbases in Europe. And… They weren’t.

    Until the whole of air traffic control is totally automated and invisible-to-operator integrated in with the flying car, this shit ain’t going to work. Ever. The average human is not yet capable of merging safely with traffic on the interstate seamlessly every single time, and you’re going to put them in a flying car…? Sweet baby Jesus, they’re barely capable of managing a merge in two dimensions, and you’re going to add a third…? And, at speeds well past the ones they can barely manage in two? LOL…

    I was going to do a bit about a hapless air car operator trying to explain to the cops about how they missed seeing a wide-body jet before hitting it, but then I realized… No survivors. Only investigation is gonna be the FAA trying to explain Jo(e) Average’s lack of causality comprehension.

    You enable widespread flying cars, and I can about guarantee you that there’s going to be a lengthy and massively destructive period of adjustment that’s going to make the take-up of the automobile look tame by comparison.

    Were it not for the random nature of where the debris is going to land, I’d advocate for expediting this process, in order to reduce the population and winnow out the unfit. As a ground-dweller who doesn’t live in a damn bunker with multiply-redundant exits, I’m going to have to vote an emphatic “NO!” on the idea.

    Call me a Luddite, sure, but don’t call me a victim of random circumstance in the impact area that will be the world.

  9. Kirk says:

    Oh, I meant to highlight this choice bit of obliviousness in that article:

    “UKAB noted that the gliding competition organisers had not put out an official ‘Notice to Airmen’, known to aviators as a NOTAM warning, about unusual air activity, because they believed it was unnecessary due to all of the pilots being local.”

    Still trying to wrap my head around that. It’s like they were only considering the risk factor to the glider pilots, and not what the result would be in terms of crashing F-15s in the local countryside…

    “Oh, that’s alright… We don’t need to worry about the kids playing on the Interstate… They’re local; they know the risks…”.

    Kinda leaves out the entire factor of the non-local truck and F-15 pilots who’re unawares of the kiddies playing on the Interstate or the gliders who’re flying in the flight path of the local airbase… WTF sort of idiots do they breed over there, anyway? Every so often Merrie Olde Englande says or does something so incredibly stupid as to make me wonder if my ancestors having departed that place could have done so much damage to the local gene pool, leaving only the apparent candidates for starring in a remake of Idiocracy…

  10. Bruce says:

    I think Kirk is right that rural areas can use them more than cities or even suburbs. Well, there’s your market. And yes, there’s a real risk to flight. But if you’d told a stagecoach driver in 1770 that people routinely drive at 70 he’d have thought there were dead people in windrows on every street.

  11. Adar says:

    Flying car has been around ever since 1945 as an item just-around-the-corner. The last version I read about did look like a flying saucer, complete with eight engines and four computers, would seat two, you did not need a pilots license to fly, etc. Heard about it once and then never again.

  12. Kirk says:

    Said stagecoach driver wouldn’t be far off his mark, were you to examine the stats in nations suddenly getting the car, like South Korea after the 88 Olympics…

    I don’t think flying cars are impossible, just that they are going to require a quantum leap or two in terms of what we have for air traffic control. And, you’re going to have to have a level of automation that we simply don’t have–Imagine the difficulties inherent to automated flight traffic control, when posed up against the problems we’re having doing it on the ground with autonomous vehicles. Also, the liability issues for the early adopters and manufacturers–You’re going to see massively stringent insurance requirements imposed, mostly because of the damage. You run a ground car into a house, and you’re maybe looking at velocities under a hundred miles an hour. Do that with a flying car moving at three hundred miles an hour or so…? Yeah; what’s an annoyance becomes catastrophic in terms of effect.

    It isn’t the technical issues; those are comparatively trivial. The real issues are social, in terms of risk-management and command/control of the flying car-piloting public. Joe Schmoe is deadly enough in two dimensions with a vehicle embodying only terrestrial velocities; put his dumb ass at the controls of a vehicle moving in three dimensions at a high enough energy range to make it worthwhile to fly, and… Wow. I need a word that expresses sufficient simultaneous rue, amusement, and horror at the prospect.

  13. Redan says:

    “Jetpack” by Tim Wilson, explicit lyrics…


  14. Bruce says:

    Massively stringent insurance and automation will mean a massive incentive to hack both. Yes, a car hitting a house at several hundred miles an hour will pose a realistic threat, but who thinks the 2019-2030 US government is or will be competent to manage that sort of thing?

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