13 November 2008

No it won't...

A flying car based on a Ferrari could be ferrying wealthy commuters to work within two years, designers have predicted.

No it won't. Story here

The first line of the story told the tale: "... is being developed by "Moller International"". Moller has been working on the topic for decades and never actually produced anything that's flown untethered. I don't buy their "insurance requirements" excuse. If you're going to sell a flying machine at some point you have to take off the leash and they never have.

Further, I do not recall ever hearing that they have taken a vehicle through FAA certification. Quite the contrary, they intended to sell the M400 with a 10 foot AGL limitation to avoid having to get FAA Certification.

Certification of flying machines using a proven configuration that the FAA understands, is a demanding process. Now you want to certify an unproven configuration? Expect that effort and cost to multiply. By what factor? 2x? 3x? 5x? 10x? Any of these would be reasonable guesses.

And good luck getting an FAA waiver to let you take off and land on public roads. That means you're limited to existing airports and heliports. Which negates the vehicles main feature - leaping out of and over traffic.

So lets look at the finances. You've got this machine that's worth the better part of a $million. Aircraft are built light. A soccer mom yakking on a cell phone backing into it is going to cause significant damage. Not to mention the distracted driver that blows a red light taking off the back end. Good thing you weren't T-boned because you probably wouldn't survive. Instead just the car is totalled. His insurance limits won't cover the loss and he doesn't have two nickles to rub together. Can you afford to write off that $1E6 as a total loss? You'll need collision insurance and that's going to run something like $30k a year. That $30k buys a pretty nice new car to leave at the other airport and the other half million you didn't spend having your $350k Ferrari converted to fly buys a pretty nice plane that will fly faster and cheaper, including the pilot, to fly you to that airport.

The bottom line is that when you try to build a machine that does two such vastly different tasks, you end up with a compromise that does neither very well. Car-boats (like the Amphicar) work but they don't stack up very well against cars or boats. Amphibious boat-planes do better but the boat hull, floats and wheel retraction mechanism extracts a significant performance penalty. Heck I'll even throw helicopters into the mix. The ability to fly at zero forward airspeed greatly increases complexity, reduces useful load and limits maximum speed over a conventional airplane. Efforts to build convertables such as the Osprey just make the complexity problem worse.

However they seem to be going after the "money is no object" crowd. When you've just spent 40 minutes in a traffic jam, been passed by three snails and now are late for the Board of Directors meeting for your $1B company. How much would you pay right now to get out of this mess? At a million bucks or ten, you'll probably get a couple takers.

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