Monday, April 2, 2012

Ready to switch to a Flying Car?

More than three years ago, I posted about American Flying Car - Terrafugia Transition. And today, the interest to this kind of transportation devices has sparkled again, since Terrafugia got company, or more accurate – competition.

Dutch startup aero-automaker PAL-V has conducted the first test flights of a three-wheel ‘flying car’ prototype it has been developing for the past several years. The unique vehicle uses a pair folding rotors, one on top and one in the rear, to fly like a gyrocopter and needs a stretch of runway or road just 540 feet long to take off.

According to its creators, the Personal Air and Land Vehicle (hence the name PAL-V) can reach speeds of 110 mph both on the ground and in the air and has a flying range of 350 miles per tank, which more than doubles when being driven.

On the road, the PAL-V actually works more like an enclosed motorcycle than a car, with a mechanical-hydraulic system that allows it to lean into turns. Fuel economy is pegged at 28 mpg in road mode and 9.5 gallons per hour when airborne.

When airborne, the PAL-V usually flies below 4,000 feet (1,200 m), the airspace available for uncontrolled Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic; so there will be no interference from commercial air traffic. Furthermore, the PAL-V is powered by a very robust, flight certified aircraft engine. It runs on gasoline.

The PAL-V ONE has a very short take off and landing capability, making it possible to land practically anywhere. When not using controlled airspace, you can take off without filing a flight plan. Flying a PAL-V is like a standard gyrocopter. It is quieter than helicopters due to the slower rotation of the main rotor. It takes off and lands with low speed, cannot stall, and is very easy to control. The gyroplane technology means that it can be steered and landed safely even if the engine fails, because the rotor keeps auto rotating.

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Measuring 4(L) x 1.6(W) x 1.6(H) m (13.1 x 5.2 x 5.2 ft), the PAL-V weighs 680 kg (1,499 lb) and can carry a maximum load of 230 kg (507 lb) for a maximum gross weight of 910 kg (2,006 lb). The company says the PAL-V complies with existing regulations in all major markets making it legal for both road and air use. Obtaining a license requires only 20 to 30 hours of training.

Although similar in concept, the PAL-V differs greatly from the Transition, which operates like an airplane and features large retractable wings to provide lift and a single propeller in the rear. Terrafugia also avoids describing the Transition as a “flying car,” preferring the term “roadable light sport aircraft,” in deference to its primary function.

Don’t worry about having to do any comparison shopping anytime soon, though. While the production version of the Transition is making its car show debut at the New York Auto Show this week, and may go on sale this year for around $297,000, PAL-V is still seeking investors to take its vehicle to the next level. The next step will be the design of the first commercial production model of the PAL-V, and first deliveries are expected in 2014.

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