The dream of mixing the chocolate of flying into the peanut butter of everyday driving has enticed inventors for decades, yet no flying car or "roadable aircraft" combination has ever found wide acceptance, let alone mastered the severe technical hurdles. That's not stopped a pair of flying Dutchmen who claimed to have solved the problem of building a true flying car -- and proven it by putting their creation in the air.
The PAL-V One, the brainchild of a pair of Dutch inventors, has been under development for more than a decade, but only took its first flight last month. Built around a carbon-fiber cockpit that can carry two people, the Pal-V One acts more like a motorcycle than a typical car, tilting its body around curves and lacking many of the info-navi-tainment screens or other comforts modern car buyers demand.
When it's time to fly, the PAL-V One's true engineering breakthroughs become apparent. Technically, it's a gyrocopter -- the top rotors unfold and extend, but spin only from the movement of the vehicle, not from engine power. A separate folding propeller emerges from the rear of the PAL-V One, and pushes the car to heights of just under 4,000 feet. It needs about 500 feet of runway for takeoff, but once airborne the PAL-V can soar a couple hundred miles, steered by the same wheel used for driving.
The company says its ready to take orders from the United States and Europe from properly licensed flying drivers who want a two-seat road-going gyrocopter for short hops. That's the same kind of territory another U.S. flying car builder, Terrafugia, hopes to lure with its own flying car design, a prototype of which also just made its first flight and could be on sale late this year. There'd be no more boss move for avoiding traffic than unfolding rotors and taking flight -- but the compromises needed to get any vehicle airborne likely means most of us are better off keeping our hands on the wheel and our feet on the ground.