In past posts, I've described small aircraft designs that combine flight with travel on land. These flying cars, or roadable airplanes, have engaged the imaginations of engineers and dreamers for many years. Currently the most prominent example, with folding wings to transfrom from a propeller-driven plane to a street-legal car, is the Terrafugia Transition. Alas, the Terrafugia's crossover design appearance is rather bulky and plain.
Recently I came across an extremely striking design -- the Moller M400 Skycar. Unlike propeller-driven craft which need a runway to take off, the M400 is a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft (see image above). The 4-passenger M400's onboard computer allows the pilot to simply point the controls in the direction of desired travel. It has a cruising speed of 275 mph, and a top speed of 375 mph, generated by 1200 horsepower from the eight ethanol-fueled Wankel rotary engines, which produced sufficiently low noise levels that the aircraft is operable in urban areas.
Safety features include ~
- multiple engines, with the ability to operate with one or more out of action
- backup computer stabilization systems
- aerodynamically stable glide ability
- dual parachutes -- deployed in the event of total loss of power to bring the aircraft safely to the ground
With a respectable maximum range of 750 miles, and an operational ceiling of 36,000 feet, the M400 is no toy. A fully-functioning prototype is scheduled for 2012, with an FAA-approved version within a few years. I've come across one significant difference between the Moller design and the Terrafugia -- the M400 is capable of travel at only 25 mph on the ground, just adequate for taxi speed. So it isn't a vehicle which one could take out on the freeway, or even on most city streets. But given that it can land and take off vertically, just about anywhere, it's a very capable and sexy-looking machine.