The Heartbreaking Truth About Flying Cars (updated)

By James Fallows

I mentioned yesterday that the Terrafugia Transition has passed an FAA hurdle toward going gotten FAA approval and can go on sale. Perhaps I should have been a little bit more obvious in indicating that I don't really think this is the answer to America's future transportation needs. Nor even the best indicator of America's overall psychic health. In the interest of explicitness, and for others who might have been in doubt, here's a response from someone who works for a large aircraft company based in Seattle, on why the Jetsons' air-car vision will (sob!) probably never become reality:

Every principle of engineering leads to one inescapable conclusion about a flying car, or "roadable aircraft": it can ONLY be a lousy example of both. The practical reality is, you can have a crap car, and a crap airplane, for five times the money and ten times the chance of dying from sudden impact.

IMHO, this particular pursuit can only be evidence of American greatness IF you think techno-triumphalism without foresight is a great thing. Americans love cars because they associate them with "freedom" in a quasi-religious fashion. But look at the unintended consequences of happy motoring: the astounding wealth squandered on the doomed project of suburbanization, and the paving of the American West.

Suppose we were able to build a Blade Runner-esque hover-car that runs on magical cheap biofuel made from lawn clippings? Every alpine meadow, mountain lake, canyon rim, and forest vale would be colonized by fat "extreme suburbanites" who would fly to and from their "green" modular McMansions.

Dude: walkable cities connected by mass transit.

* P.S. As an avid paraglider pilot, I wince at the "Maverick" para-car. Once you understand that rudderless paragliders have no cross-wind landing capacity, and the wing-loading of that size canopy dictates a landing speed in excess of 30mph, you realize that the roll cage is there for a reason...

Below: images of the Maverick mentioned above. Below them: image of an airplane from a large aircraft company based in Seattle.

UPDATE: My large-aircraft-company correspondent says he was actually talking about a different Maverick flying car, from this site and immediately below. The two pictures after that are the Maverick that he didn't have in mind. But still an adventure! First, the "right" Maverick:

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Now, the "other" Mavericks:

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mav4.jpg


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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/07/the-heartbreaking-truth-about-flying-cars-updated/58972/