Who of us, when bottlenecked in a traffic jam with an important meeting coming up, has never dreamed of being able to just take off and fly over the queues to our destination? Of being able to take off from Britain for a weekend in France, or from France to Corsica? Or just the pleasure of wheeling and diving with the swallows and hawks amidst the clouds?
There have been several attempts to achieve personal flight, with Manfred Ruhmer testing an electrically-powered microlight, Pietro Terzi designing an innovative but apparently hitherto untested vehicle, and Terrafugia, a company based in Boston (USA) marketing the Transition.
Today, there is another player in this field, Dutch company PAL-V, which has successfully tested its flying car PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle). This is basically an autogyro with an internal combustion engine powering a pusher propellor, located behind the cockpit. On the road, it can be driven normally, and it has been designed so that there are no problems in terms of road licencing. Now it has also been air-tested, it is closer to being launched on the market.
It has a range of between 350 and 500 km, reaching speeds of up to 180 km/h both on the ground and in the air. The three-wheeled vehicle is more like a motorcycle than a car, with sports-car-type performance and an innovative tilting system for faster and safer cornering.
In the air, the gyrocopter arrangement makes it safe and relatively silent. The rotor autorotates, so that even in case of engine failure, it can glide down to land safely. Its take-off and landing speeds are low. A strip of just 165 metres is sufficient, and this can be tarmac or grass. Obtaining a licence to fly the craft requires just 20-30 hours of training.
Governments both in Europe and the USA are not oblivious to these developments. They are exploring the concept of "highways in the air" with digital GPS control, in order to enable the safe development of personal air traffic. In the Netherlands, home to the PAL-V company, three ministries are supporting the PAL-V project, which has attracted interest from the police, the military, and medical organizations. The company is now looking for new investors to fund the commercial launch of the vehicle. So if you like the idea of being able to say to a friend, "I'll drop in for lunch" with the idea of doing just that in absolute safety, take a look at the company website. Happy landings!