Top 10 Stories About Flying Cars

According to some accounts, when Buckminster Fuller travelled, he would stop by an airport newsstand and select a magazine about a topic he knew little, if nothing, about — fashion, gardening, etc. On his flight, he would read the magazine cover-to-cover. By doing this, every trip resulted in his learning something new and it helped him see the world in a different way.

During the past year, I tried a similar exercise, but instead of a magazine, I used a couple of Google news alerts to learn about a topic I knew very little, flying cars. I take that back. I used to know a lot about flying cars, but that was from watching the Jetsons when I was a kid. I chose the topic because I’ve often wondered if there are still people promising that flying cars are right around the corner. Well, after watching a steady flow — not a heavy flow, but a steady flow — of 3-4 flying car news stories a week roll by for the past 12 months, I’m happy to report that there are still a lot of geek-dreamers out there who are obsessed with the idea of flying cars.

In the course of 12 months, I bookmarked almost 50 different stories about flying cars on my Delicious account. And I know I missed some, as I ran across at least one new “gem” while preparing this post.

My year of scanning a totally esoteric topic helped me appreciate the niche passions that exist everywhere you look. It also helped me discover that by merely setting up a couple of web-content “catching tools” (Google alerts, in this case), I could quidkly get a sense of the news flow on a topic. More surprising, within a few weeks, I could sense who are legitimate players and who are never going to get their “concepts” off the ground, literally.

Another nice thing happened because I chose to publicly bookmark what I found. Because the RSS feed of my Delicious bookmarks show up a few different places (like FriendFeed, for instance), some people (ranging from old friends to some people I’ve never met) started “spotting” flying car stories and emailing them to me.

After looking back over the list of stories, I decided to wrap up the year-long experiment with, what else, a blog post that lists, in my opinion, the 2008 Top Ten Stories about Flying Cars. (There won’t be a 2009 list.):

Is this worth $3.5 million?

10. Failure to sell flying cars from previous eras on eBay: Sarah Palin wasn’t the only seller who couldn’t unload an aircraft on eBay this year. A Moller M200X from the mid-1980s failed to meet a $20,000 reserve and a 1956 Aerocar N103D Flying Plane Car Single Engine Auto Fly is listed on eBay for $3.5 million. Neither of the cars actually fly, although both are cute.

9. Concepting a new flying car that will fail to sell on eBay ten years from now: Paul Moller has spent most of his life and lots of his and other people’s money chasing the flying car dream (see #10). The current Moller International “dream car” is ‘The Autovolantor’ – based on a Ferrari 599 GTB. The photo looks like a really bad plastic model car from the 1960s

8. The Audi Calamaro: This is very fattening flying-car eye-candy. While it would be wonderful to say Audi is going to be selling these soon, unfortunately, it’s merely a concept designed for a competition, organized by Porsche Hungary.

7. Is this “hover killbot” really a flying car: Or, perhaps, a flying bike. Aurora Flight Sciences of Virginia is working on a “ducted-fan vertical takeoff aircraft” called the Excalibur. It’s 23 feet long and is shaped like the “T” sword in the Tennessee Titans logo.

6. Flying Car Could Become Israel’s Robotic Ambulance: A group of Israeli technology and defense firms are working on what could become the world’s first robotic aircraft for evacuating, and even treating, soldiers injured on the battlefield.

5. The “Roadable Aircraft”:: Apparently afraid to sound like another of those “imaginary flying car” makers, a company called Terrafugia in Woburn, Massachusetts, introduced The Transition, but was adamant about not calling it a “flying car.” Rather, it’s a “roadable aircraft.” According to Popular Science, the vehicle, which Terrafugia said will go on sale in 2009, will cruise smoothly on the road and through the sky. It will have four wheels, Formula One–style suspension, and a pair of 10-foot-wide wings that fold up when it switches from air to asphalt. Click on the arrow on the embedded video for a very brief animation of how it folds up. (Plan B business plan: Doing flash animations.)

4. Great use of our tax-dollars: While some people may have problems with the government bailing out the big three automakers, how could any red-blooded American oppose tax dollars going to fund flying car concepts? OK, don’t answer that. At least two such government funded flying car projects flew by me this year. A NASA Centennial Challenge for “$300,000 to the competitor who demonstrates an small, inexpensive aircraft that is safer, less expensive and easier to operate, while having fewer negative effects on the environment and communities surrounding airports.” Also, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said it was developing “a personal air vehicle” that could transport 2 to 4 personnel either by driving on roads or flying.

3. The Icon A5: OK. I know it’s incorrect to call this a flying car, or even a “roadable plane” (see #5). This is actually “light sport plane” (LSA) that can be flown by pilots who are licensed under a category approved by the FAA in 2004 called the “Sport Pilot.” While there are an estimated 75 different types of LSAs on or entering the market, what makes this seem like a flying car to me is the way in which the wings fold up so it can fit in your garage. That, and the way it costs as much as a Maserati.

2. What life will be like in 2008 (as predicted in 1968): This would have been the #1 story had it all come true. I’m not flying 250 miles per hour to work, however. Which is good for another reason, since I only live 3 miles from the office. On Delicious, this was the most bookmarked story tagged flying car.

1. British Engineer Invents Fan-powered Flying Car: Finally, a flying car that actually flies. Not what I imagined or hoped for, but it flies. Gilo Cardozo, owner of a company that manufacturers “paramotors,” flying devices that look like a parachute attached to an industrial fan, has created the “Skycar.” It is, in effect, a dune-buggy attached to a paramotor. Cardozo plans to fly it from London to the Sahara Desert in 2009. He obviously never watched the Jetsons growing up.

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