The idea is ever so alluring to non-pilots; drive your airplane from home to the airport, fly to the next city airport, and then drive to your final destination. It would have to be safer, since you could land on the way and drive if the weather turned sour, and with a rocket-propelled ballistic parachute, what could go wrong?
Yet a pilot would ask, “don’t they have rental cars where you’re going? Or friends?” Or, how about all the times we’ve been offered an airport loaner car for free, with a request to bring it back in the morning? And since we can read weather forecasts before we fly, and the safety record of ballistic parachutes is a mixed bag, is it any surprise that experienced pilots are not enthusiastic about the promise of a flying car?
Even if they do produce the flying car for only $280,000 (out of my league!), it might be a hard-sell to pilots, since it comes with a 100 HP ROTAX engine subject to this manufacturer’s warning: “Never fly the aircraft equipped with this engine at locations, airspeeds, altitudes, or other circumstances from which a no-power landing cannot be made, after sudden engine stoppage.” That makes the proven and dependable 180HP IO-360 in a new Cessna 172 look pretty good, for about the same money. By the way, the Cessna has four seats and can be flown at night and in instrument conditions.
Still lusting for a flying car? Consider that after an exemption from the FAA, the folks behind one prototype tout the payload of their design as 460 pounds, which sounds ample for two people, until you consider that a full fuel load of 23 gallons cuts that useful load down to 319 pounds. Better start yourself and your flying companion on that diet! Not to mention that to a pilot’s eye, all of the flying cars look like aerodynamic nightmares. It’s no wonder that the FAA has issued a new statement which re-considers allowing 20 hour “sport” pilots to fly these machines. Cooler heads have prevailed, and the feds now say that they will determine the pilot licensing requirements after flight testing is complete, if that ever happens.
As a car, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has granted a 3 year “hardship” exemption to make one design road-able, with no guarantee it will be permanent. And not that it matters to those of you ready to plunk down $280K to look super-cool while driving around town, but insurance costs are likely to be sky-high, and the miles you drive will count towards the Time Between Overhaul (TBO) for your ROTAX engine, which was never intended for stop-and-go propulsion.
There is one thing which the flying car is very good at: Raising capital investments. Their promise of a “new level of safety, convenience and freedom” is estimated to have raised at least $11.5 million towards their $10 billion goal, with $30 million in pre-orders claimed. Of course, it would be cheaper to buy one of the six 1949 Moulton Taylor Aero Cars which actually flew fairly well, but never went into full production. Because even then, like the atomic refrigerator for your mom’s kitchen, it was a nifty idea which was not very practical.
Finally, if you visit my home airport as a transient pilot in your new flying car, you should make advance arrangements for the car gates, because the manager may not answer his cell phone to give you a code to exit from the airport without a gate pass when you want to. Just saying…