Last Words (for now) on Flying Cars

Most recently here and here. The all-purpose dispositive statement on the subject from reader RJ:

Of course the Terrafugia isn't the answer - how can it be if it is not also a boat!

There is some modest hope in this direction -- the Icon A5. It's more a flying boat that also has wheels, but still:

And, the secret ingredient required for a successful flying-car system, from reader PO:

When I was in architecture school I had a graphic design business for beer money. One day an earnest engineering student came in wanting a brochure made for his flying car company. He wanted to pay in stock instead of cash.

Remembering that the lawyer who handled Henry Ford's battle against the Selden Patent was paid in stock, which allowed him to switch careers from attorney to philanthropist, I thought, "what the hell," and did the brochure. But I told my roommates, "this will never fly. If you think traffic jams are bad in 2 dimensions, just imagine rush hour in 3 dimensions. The death rate will kill the idea as soon as it's tried."

Even if flying cars could be built of glypsite* and powered by glyptonium**, the idea that the mass use of flying cars would not create aerial havoc is not really believable. Oh, the insurance rates!
* glypsite was a fictional material devised by the architecture students--it was transparent, weightless, with infinite structural capacity at infitesimal dimensions. Our standard response to the professorial question of "and how would you build that?" was "We'll use glypsite!"

**glyptonium is the energy analogue to glypsite.
And for the many readers who have helpfully pointed out that flying cars are not the ideal solution to world environmental problems -- yes, yes, I know. Thus my enthusiasm for the new solar-powered airplane out of Switzerland and the Paris Green Air Show! (Also here.) For another time. And, after the jump, one final perspective, from a reader who thinks that we're unfairly maligning the usefulness of the Terrafugio Transition.

In defense of the Terrafugia:

Your reader, in "The Heartbreaking Truth About Flying Cars" is an urban purist, and an environmental activist. But he's off base on the value of blending a car and an airplane, even if it's a "lousy" car and airplane. Most of us appreciate the car and airplane for transportation, and most of us might be interested in an airplane if it werent for cost and safety concerns. I dont think that I'd mind mediocre handling as a car or a plane for a vehicle that has some abilities of both. As for safety, a lot of the safety concerns come from bad weather, and roadable airplane is an excellent way of avoiding the necessity to fly in bad weather.

If the Terrafugia includes well-developed avionics that are internet-enabled, thereby making weather, traffic and safety information readily available, then you have the makings of the simplification of flying, which is very important to introduce it to a larger customer base. Remember that most auto consumers buy their cars on how generally useful they are. I bought a small SUV 11 years ago and I'm still driving it. It's very useful. I think that the Terrafugia should be viewed in that light.

Regarding cost, I think that if it's successful, the cost can come down significantly.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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