Overview of Skycar and transportation Feb 2001

From: Stephen D. Williams (sdw@lig.net)
Date: Fri Mar 09 2001 - 10:26:10 PST

This has been around forever, but finally they are talking about a
flight test of a complete prototype this year.

If it works, I want one! At $500,000 I'd have to be a salesperson for
them. At $60,000 I'd have it in a minute.

A mile of vertical lift in 60 seconds? That would be fun.

This could be the next Wall Street bubble, along with "IT". ;-)

Surprising that rotary engines and Stirling engines (i.e. "IT") are
making such a splash and turbines are still religated to large scale

The article mentions that a 'gallon' of hydrogen fuel can be made with
solar power for $3. I didn't know we were that efficient already.
Assumedly you get a gallon of O2 also (fewer atoms, greater mass) or
something like that. Practically the holy grail of renewable energy.
(Hence I doubt the numbers.)



sdw@lig.net  http://sdw.st
Stephen D. Williams
43392 Wayside Cir,Ashburn,VA 20147-4622 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 

Overview of Skycar and transportation Feb 2001


updated Feb. 2001

The dream is a reality

People have dreamed about a personal air vehicle for years, but until now a practical one has not been available - the Moller 400 Skycar is the first such vehicle, an automobile-sized vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for up to 4 passengers.

The M400 Skycar is designed to cruise at speeds up to 350 mph at altitudes up to 30,000 ft - initially, FAA regulations and fuel economy will restrict cruising speeds to 285 mph at altitudes below 10,000 ft.

It can travel up to 900 miles without refueling.

Quick, automatic fine adjustment and maneuvering are executed through computer control to produce a smooth flight - with advanced avionics, the Skycar will be simple to fly, and will eventually be capable of complete electronic piloting.

Cabin pressurization or oxygen will be provided to take advantage of the greater speeds that can be attained efficiently at high altitudes for longer trips.

Powered landing gear wheels will provide taxiing to parking or takeoff areas - however, the prototype Skycar is not designed as an on-road vehicle.

The Skycar is unique

The M400 Skycar is classified as a "powered lift" vehicle - 4 pairs of rotary engines with ducted fans produce 1200 hp to provide 2800 lb of thrust.

The four M400 engine nacelles can each provide 700 lbs of lift and together can produce more than a mile of vertical lift in 60 seconds.

Moveable vanes mounted behind the engines deflect thrust to control the direction of flight - vertical, horizontal, banking, turns, etc. - no ailerons, flaps, or other external control surfaces are needed - the speed of each engine and the position of the vanes are the only control variables.

The vehicle's shape provides aerodynamic lift and good fuel economy when cruising - only 4 of the 8 engines, operating at less than 2/3 capacity, would be needed to maintain cruising speed at altitudes below 10,000 ft.

The M400 uses gasoline - depending on altitude and cruise speed, the Skycar can be expected to get 18 to 22 mpg - each takeoff requires approximately 1/10 gallon of gas - the M400's rotary engines will soon be capable of using other fuels, such as methanol, ethanol, jet fuel, diesel, liquid natural gas, and hydrogen.

The satellite-based Global Positioning System with ground-based radio navigation backup will provide instant, accurate navigation - an obstacle-avoidance radar looking forward and down can be added for safety.

Communications with a Skycar ground controller will be facilitated by automatic position reporting through efficient radio and satellite transmission - ground-to-Skycar and Skycar-to-Skycar communications will also be via commercial cellular telephone and/or packet communication.

A practical Skycar can now be built

Moller's patented improvements to the rotary engine provides sufficient lift per pound of engine weight to permit making a practical 4-passenger Skycar - 25 years ago, a similar vehicle design was tried by the Navy, the X22A, but until the powerful, low cost and lightweight Moller engine was available, a practical ducted fan powered-lift air vehicle could not be built.

Ducted Fans Were Too Large, Heavy, and Expensive 25 Years Ago

Avionics (computers, controls, radio communications, etc.) have evolved to the point of being light enough, cheap enough, and capable enough to control flight with multiple engines and provide obstacle avoidance, path planning and navigation.

The development of composite materials provides light-weight strength in optimum aerodynamic shapes at reasonable cost - composite airframes have been used since the Learjet in 1981.

Designed for safety

The M400 Skycar will be able to take off and land vertically with one engine out, and can fly and land safely with several engines out - it has no catastrophic failure component such as a helicopter's main rotor or small airplane's single engine.

Engines, computers, radios, radars, communications, and navigation systems all have backups, so failure of any one part will not be flight-critical.

New, lightweight, inexpensive radars and quick maneuverability will allow the Skycar to operate safely close to buildings, power lines, trees, etc., and avoid aircraft - unlike helicopters and other aircraft that will never have the maneuverability required for safe electronic piloting in close quarters or turbulent conditions.

A phased array radar capable of detecting wires and birds was demonstrated in the late 80’s which weighed only 52 lbs - the manufacturer estimated a production weight of less than 30 pounds, as a cost of $10,000 each.

Skycars are more like high-tech bats than conventional aircraft - both can land almost anywhere, quickly change direction, fly without crashing into other members of the flock, are not dependent on ground control, and have built in range sensing.

The Skycar design permits very fast changes in speed and/or direction - the thrust can be changed by 10% in velocity or direction in 1/10 of a second.

The M400 Skycar will be much less dangerous for bystanders than a helicopter or small airplane - the whirling fan blades are contained in kevlar-lined housings with intake screens to provide protection even if the blades should self-destruct.

A computerized vehicle condition management system will constantly monitor engine and other functions and stress points on the Skycar, and warn of maintenance needed or impending failure - a trip can be aborted safely if necessary, and another Skycar dispatched to pick up passengers.

Comparison of Aircraft








Single Engine



Douglas 520N

TBM 700



4 to 5

4 to 7

Cruise speed

350 mph

155 mph

293 mph

Top speed

390 mph

175 mph

345 mph

Rate of climb

7,150 fpm

1,850 fpm

2,300 fpm

Payload with max fuel

740 lbs

1,403 lbs

615 lbs

Max. range @ payload

900 mi

250 mi

1,800 mi

Fuel consumption

18-22 mpg

4 mpg

7 mpg

Operational ceiling

30,000 ft

14,000 ft

30,000 ft

Gross weight

2,400 lbs

3,350 lbs

6,250 lbs

Dimensions - L*W*H




Engine power

960 hp

450 hp

700 hp

Takeoff and landing area

35 ft dia

75 ft dia

3500 ft x100 ft

Noise at 500 feet

65 dba

75 dba

70 dba

Price new - 1998 $




The Skycar can land very quickly on almost any stable flat surface such as a parking lot or field, and the Skycar can also make an emergency landing at an airport.

Early in its development when a human pilot is required, the Skycar will be an extraordinarily safe small aircraft.

The Skycar will be even safer when full electronic piloting is added - then people will not be required to make split-second decisions in difficult situations - the combination of electronic pilot backed up by a ground controller will virtually eliminate errors made under conditions of fatigue, drunkenness, poor visibility, or distraction.

In the highly unlikely event that several engines fail, two ballistic parachutes on the airframe will prevent a fatal crash - the Skycar's aerodynamic body provides a 9 to 1 glide slope for making an emergency landing at an airport or open area with parachutes.

If a parachute landing is needed over water the Skycar will float, enabling passengers to debark with life preservers - the proposed design should be able to land and take off from water.

The Skycar will also be safer than an automobile because it is not limited to a single dimension for maneuvering - it has no road edges, guard rails or slippery roads to avoid, no dangerous traffic congestion, and no mechanical failure or human error to contend with.

With the electronic pilot, the Skycar accident rate should be lower than for other aircraft - it will react quickly, have more maneuverability, will follow safe electronic flight rules, will have radar observability for at least 5 miles ahead, and will have communication with other vehicles as well as with the ground controller.

Can tolerate virtually all faults and errors

The position of each Skycar will be reliably determined by continually cross-checking a variety of information sources, including GPS satellite positioning, VOR radios, radar identification of ground reference points, and broadcasts from other Skycars.

The Skycar's computers will confirm that sensors are operating correctly - this reasonableness check is one of the major tasks for most pilots.

The Skycar will constantly run a computer simulation of its environment to check the reasonableness of its performance and simulate what could happen in the future as a result of its actions or inactions.

Later, the electronic pilot operation will permit the ground controller to be fully aware of the condition and options of the Skycar during an emergency, and to control it directly if necessary from the ground.

Is more flexible than other aircraft

The Skycar has more operational flexibility than other small aircraft - it is designed to be used for all lengths of trips, from the short commute in a congested city to the several thousand mile cross-country trip requiring hops of up to 900 miles between fuel stops.

The Skycar operates under adverse conditions - its compact shape makes it flyable at night, in fog, in most storms, high winds, microbursts, and conditions other light aircraft cannot handle - however, tornadoes, thunderstorms, severe icing, and hurricanes will need to be avoided.

Is quiet

The Skycar's fans inside ducts (nacelles) utilize Moller's patented muffler technology - the Skycar is expected to be as quiet as a delivery truck on takeoff and landing - 70 decibels at 50 feet.

With quick, vertical takeoff and landing, Skycar noise will be heard on the ground for only 10 seconds or less - the Skycar doesn't require long, noisy flight at low altitudes to take off and land as do other aircraft, so it can be used in or near residential areas.

The Skycar can take off and land on a sound-insulated roof, where its low noise won't disturb office workers or apartment/condo residents underneath.

Vibration and noise in the cabin will be at lower levels than for conventional small aircraft - the nacelles are also mufflers, the propulsion system has very few moving parts, and the rotary engines have less vibration than conventional engines - the remaining noise will be reduced by using phase cancellation technology already in use on some commercial aircraft.

Has low pollution and can use alternative fuels

Engines used in Skycars have met the demanding Ultra-Low Emissions Standard of California State without needing any catalytic add-ons.

For trips over 30 miles, the M400 fueled by gasoline will produce 4 times fewer nitrogen oxides that contribute to acid rain, 10 times fewer hydrocarbons that create smog, and 3 times less carbon dioxide that may contribute to global warming. Use of liquid natural gas or liquid hydrogen as fuels would produce even less of these pollutants.

The Skycar would complement environmentally sound, short distance ground transportation systems using nonpolluting bicycles, electric cars, and trucks.

A nation that uses the Skycar as a major transportation vehicle and has abundant sources of non-petroleum fuels could reduce its dependence on foreign oil - over 20 countries have significant amounts of cheap natural gas.

Hydrogen will probably be the best fuel for the Skycar in the future, especially for those regions that can produce it locally - hydrogen does not have to be based on imported fossil fuels, and does not contribute to local pollution or global warming - hydrogen can already be produced for about $3 a gallon from solar energy ($1.50 a gallon from fossil fuels), similar to the price for gasoline plus taxes in some countries.

The Skycar uses fewer resources than the auto - due to use by many more people per day and a longer lifetime, it is expected that a single Skycar during its lifetime will replace 60 autos.


A superior transportation option

The Skycar combines the performance of airplanes and the vertical takeoff and landing capability of helicopters in a single vehicle without the limitations of either.

The Skycar will be used like an automobile, taking you from your home or office in privacy directly to your destination 10 to thousands of miles away.

A Skycar will be dispatched to most passengers from a human piloted commercial air limousine service or, later, an electronically piloted air taxi service - many individuals and companies will, of course, own Skycars.

But with efficient, convenient, and inexpensive travel provided by the commercial air limo or air taxi service, only a few individuals or corporations are expected to choose to own and operate their own Skycars.

Because Skycar economics support fleet-type operations with ride-sharing rather than large-scale individual ownership, 20 times fewer Skycars than autos could serve the same number of people in auto-intensive countries such as the US.

Why there will be only minimal private ownership of Skycars

Operation of numerous Skycars in an area requires close intercommunications and control, best achieved through coordination by a fleet ground controller.

Fleet operations and dispatch eliminates the parking and maintenance hassles of individual ownership, especially for the electronically piloted vehicle.

Few individuals will be able to afford to buy or, more importantly, frequently upgrade their vehicles as new electronics, avionics, and software become available.

Requires no parking at destination

A Skycar air taxi service will require only brief landings, not long-term parking, so modified rooftops, plus some curbside bus stops or passenger loading zones set aside for Skycar use, should provide enough space to accommodate most Skycars in urban areas - some interim and long-term parking areas can be set aside for Skycars on top of parking garages and park-and-ride lots.

To modify their rooftops for Skycars, building owners will have to install landing pads, noise-abatement fencing and insulation, small parking areas, and elevators or staircases.

Not much modification is required because most roofs are built to handle rainwater and snow loads, and noise abatement is already built in to muffle roof machinery such as air conditioning.

Less modification would be required than for helicopters, which are heavier, noisier, and require a larger unobstructed space.

The cost of modified rooftops could be more than recovered by charging landing fees for Skycars.

Supports ride-sharing for commuting and regional travel

The air taxi dispatch system can put people going on the same path or to the same destination into the same Skycar - thus fly-on-demand service will result in dynamic ride-sharing.

Ride-sharing in the Skycar will not require you to change vehicles between journey legs, as do most multi-passenger transit systems - this saves time, of course, and also stress from having to worry about making connections.

Even with the additional time needed to pick up and let off other passengers, the Skycar will still provide a 4 times faster commute than is currently available with the auto, vanpool, or mass transit, except for very short distances.

If the Skycar could eliminate 1% of the car commuters, it would eliminate about 3% of the miles driven - 9% of US commuters who drive long distances now account for 27% of all commuting miles.

Relieves ground traffic congestion

Average Speed of Autos in Congested Cities (1995)







Hong Kong


LA (yr. 2000)


The physical limits of ground transportation have been or soon will be reached in many large cities, such as Los Angeles and Tokyo - there is no more space for highways, parking lots, rails, etc. - auto speed in urban areas in the US peaked in 1970.

Ground transportation systems, even the fastest ones, simply cannot overcome the inherent physical limitations of having to travel circuitous routes along 1-dimensional paths over 2-dimensional ground surfaces.

The Skycar takes advantage of the fact that there is much more physical space available for vehicles in the air overhead than on roads or rails - the M400 supports higher traffic density in the air, even at high speeds, because of the planned highways in the sky backed by radars, instant maneuvering capability, constant electronic monitoring of conditions, and communications with other Skycars - a Skycar will normally be able to take the most direct route between two points.

There would be much less traffic congestion in the air with electronically piloted Skycars than on the ground with autos - a whole freeway of autos could be replaced by a single layer of Skycars 2 miles wide with 1 mile between vehicles on the same path and 500 feet between adjacent paths.

In the US, transit systems that serve urban areas have actually been declining in ridership as people prefer private vehicles - the Skycar offers the flexibility of ride sharing or private use, especially when electronic piloting is implemented.

The Skycar, traveling directly from origin to destination (except for detours around restricted areas such as airports) can relieve suburb-to-suburb transportation problems as well as suburb-to-city ones, without having to build new roads or rail.

Also relieves airport congestion

Air transportation is increasingly being limited by the growing congestion at airports - this situation is even beginning to impact aircraft manufacturers - Boeing, for example, sees sales being constrained by this in the near future.

Few new airports are being built in the over-developed world - in fact, small airports are being torn down at the rate of 10 per year - and enlarging the existing hub airports is proving difficult, if not impossible, in many cases.

The Ways Airports Delay the Traveler

Passengers require extra time to get to and from airports using ground transportation.

Passengers have to check in, wait, load, and then wait again for takeoff clearance.

Airplanes have to wait in holding patterns if the airport is crowded.

Airplanes are not allowed to land or take off in fog, snow, storm, with ice on runway, or in any condition where visual clearance is less than 500 to 1000 feet.

Airplanes must depend on the air traffic control system, which is now strained to the limit, and already impacts airline schedules.

Is inexpensive to use

By being in constant use throughout the day, having few moving parts, being fuel efficient, and reducing salary costs with electronic piloting, the total cost per passenger mile of the Skycar in an air taxi operation is similar to that of the automobile or commercial aircraft - even with an acquisition cost of $400,000 per vehicle.

The cost ranges from 92/mile for one passenger in a piloted M400 air limousine, down to 12/mile in the electronically piloted single passenger M100 air taxi, as shown in the following table - a pickup charge for each passenger of $1 to $3 is added per flight.




1 passenger in piloted M400 Air Limousine


3 passengers in piloted M400


4 passengers in electronically piloted M400


1 passenger in electronically piloted M100

The ticket cost per passenger mile was computed based on the cost assumptions in the table below.



Purchase Price M400, 10 year life, straight line cost


Hours of use per week


Seats filled


Average speed (mph)


Fuel cost per gallon


Fuel usage - miles per gallon for M400


Maintenance cost per flight hour


Management and administration per vehicle per year


Pilot - cost per year, flying 70% of the time


Ground control, profit, advertising, parking, insurance, training


Flight miles that are billable

The 4-passenger M400 Skycar has excellent fuel economy for trips longer than 300 miles - in excess of 60 passenger miles per gallon, consuming about 1/10 gallon of fuel to get to the altitude needed for a short trip.

Increases mobility

Many governments believe that increased transportation mobility results in increased dependence on foreign oil, increased crowding, and increased pollution, and worse, that any improvements to mobility will be only temporary.

Thus, individuals seeking increased mobility through additional roads and autos are being opposed by governments impressed by the disadvantages - so governments are trying to substitute various forms of mass transit, but individuals aren't riding - the Skycar solves this by providing individual transportation that also has the advantages of mass transit.

Requires no expensive infrastructure

Currently, only helicopters and other vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles can avoid airports, but heliports and vertiports have had to be relatively large to accommodate the large, noisy vehicles needed to carry enough passengers for profitable flights.

The Skycar will use much smaller vertiports - built on flat roof tops, on top of parking garages, in parking lots, etc.

With the Skycar, governments will not have to build new freeways, parking lots, or airports, so can save farms, wetlands, forests, and of course money - the Skycar infrastructure doesn't require thousands of square miles to be paved over - the land required for small vertiports is less than 1/100th the amount needed for an equivalent rail system.

The Skycar will not require public subsidies as do large mass transit systems and the auto - no big outlay for infrastructure is needed to enable the Skycar to start operations, as is required for virtually every other form of transportation - and, once installed, a Skycar system can add new service areas in months, not years.

The small infrastructure required can be financed by use charges - flight time estimated at 12 per minute and vertiports at $1 per use (1990 dollars) - it is estimated that this level of funding will be sufficient to finance the air taxi system's use of central navigation, communication and weather information service, with link-up to the ground and air traffic control systems.

Large-scale use of the Skycar will cost much less than many proposed transportation alternatives, such as light rail, high speed rail, or MagLev - due primarily to much reduced ground infrastructure required for an equivalent Skycar system, costs will be 1/5 to 1/20 that of a rail system.

Helps the long distance commuter

The Skycar will replace existing commutes of 40 minutes with flights of 4 to 8 minutes - plus, with the air limo or taxi service, you won't have to park.

When the electronically piloted air taxi is available, you won't even have to drive or put up with a stranger (pilot) driving you.

Just call the dispatcher on your cell-phone - tell him or her where you want to go - in a few minutes, when your Skycar arrives, get in, and lift off immediately - fly straight to your destination across town or across the continent.

Many auto commuters will take the Skycar just because they don't like the hassle of driving.

The Skycar has the potential to significantly increase your productivity on the job by reducing the time and stress of your commute.

Lets you live where you want

With the Skycar, you can live in a scenic or rural area rather than in a nearby expensive congested suburb and still work in the city - live up to 100 miles away and still have less than a half-hour commute.

Suburb-to-suburb commuting within a large region will also be feasible with the Skycar.

Attend cultural events, special school or university, and visit recreation spots without having to live in or near the urban area.

Workers can afford to live in cheaper housing much further from the city, because the commute time is still reasonable.

The middle and upper class will be able to choose the most desirable home sites within a much greater area than is possible now, and can enjoy the benefits of pursuing business or professional opportunities over a wide region.

Retirement, vacation, and planned "rural setting" communities will proliferate further from cities, without needing additional expensive freeways - 2-lane roads will handle the necessary truck and reduced auto traffic - with the Skycar, shopping and medical facilities can be centralized for a region, not duplicated in every community.

Improves family and community life

With the Skycar families can quickly come together from distant areas - older children can easily visit relatives or friends, or attend private school or lessons in next city, without requiring a parent to drive them.

Increased access because of quick, easy Skycar transportation means that scattered individuals and communities will be able to draw on many resources and activities just as urban dwellers in large cities do now - high density will not be required to support rich and varied cultural opportunities.

Communities are likely to develop their own individual character as a result of the Skycar - instead of "plastic malls" endlessly repeated in each community for the convenience of its residents, people will find it just as convenient to visit a truly unique shop or restaurant in another town or city in the region - communities will vie to attract residents and/or tourists, and can draw on people over a wide area.

Opens up new areas for development worldwide

The Skycar overcomes the limitations of difficult terrain such as mountains, forests, islands, deserts, and tundra, where the cost of transportation infrastructure has been prohibitive - the Skycar would greatly improve transportation in, for example, Japan, Indonesia, Greece, Brazil, Chile, China, Russia, Alaska, and Saudi Arabia - 40 countries have already contacted Moller about the Skycar.

Japan, for example, recently completed a costly 33 mile undersea tunnel to the island of Hokkaido to shave 2.5 hours off a 13.5 hour commute from Tokyo to Sapporo - the M400 would have cut 11.5 hours off the commute, and the expensive tunnel wouldn't have been needed.

The figure shows how a small island near Tokyo could be used as an airport, with people arriving very near their final destination via Skycar within 1 hour.

Many countries and regions would, with improved transportation available at relatively low cost, be able to enjoy greater economic development and an improved quality of life - better medical services, shopping, business activity, etc. with the Skycar.









A new vehicle, the M400 Skycar, makes possible a new concept in transportation, the air taxi (initially, the air limousine).

The air taxi concept includes fleets of Skycars dispatched to pick up and deliver passengers from small vertiports or park-and-ride lots to their destinations 10 to hundreds of miles away.

Each air taxi franchise would include dispatch and maintenance facilities, ground control, communications with air traffic controllers and information from weather satellites - emergency landing areas would also be designated and maintained.

The various franchises would overlap and coordinate activities, including ground control and communications - these would also be provided to private Skycar owners for a fee.

These franchises would be expected initially to cover small areas - several hundred square miles - and be extended throughout entire countries, continents, archipelagoes, etc.

The franchises would likely be operated by local airlines or other established transportation companies and coordinated with other long distance (especially overseas) air and ground transport.

Why the Air Taxi concept is critical

  Growing congestion at major airports. Growing congestion highways

A new transportation product must be fully supported, easier to use and maintain, less expensive, and clearly more beneficial than existing systems, or people will not accept the new form of transportation - the air taxi will have this support.

From a business perspective, a new product must also fill a need that is currently not being met, and create a new market to meet that need - new products can completely take over an existing market only when they have at least 3 times more benefits at the same or lower cost.

The air taxi concept provides that new market for the Skycar - later, as the Skycar is established in the air taxi market, it will make additional inroads into the old, established general aviation, automobile, and commercial jet markets.

Early phase - Air Limousine

The air taxi concept will initially be set up as an "air limousine" service with a licensed pilot to operate each vehicle - the maximum load per M400 Skycar will be 3 passengers plus the pilot.

Each air limousine fleet will have a central dispatch and maintenance facility, and will handle garaging, repairs, dispatch of rescue vehicles in case of emergency, navigation and weather information, and flight plan filing with conventional air traffic control authorities.

Businesses will save hours by using the limousine to fly executives, sales personnel, customers, etc. to facilities without being constrained by schedules or availability of airports.

High growth phase - Air Taxi

After electronic piloting capability has been added to the M400, an electronically piloted Skycar air taxi service can be offered, which will vastly expand the Skycar's market potential by lowering operating costs and permitting landing at many more locations.

Without the human pilot, the M400 passenger load will increase to 4 passengers per Skycar.

While the electronically piloted Skycar will be able to fly by itself, the on-board human pilot will be phased out gradually as people can become comfortable with the electronic pilot.

With electronic piloting, a ground controller will monitor the flight of many Skycars and be able to take control of any Skycar in case an emergency exceeds the electronic pilot's flight rules.

In flight, passengers will always be able to request immediate landing or changes of course and speed with the controller - the electronics on the Skycar will actually carry out the directions, consistent with air traffic control, rules of the road, and weather conditions, automatically making necessary maneuvers to avoid obstacles, gusts, etc.

Passengers will always be able to contact a human for immediate assistance and reassurance - the ground controller will know exactly where each Skycar is, the status of the vehicle, fuel, weather, etc., and will send out a relief vehicle if an emergency landing is required.

Why electronic piloting is inevitable

Electronic piloting is needed for three reasons: to make it possible for anyone to fly in the Skycar without a pilot, for safety, and to lower operating costs - therefore, electronic piloting must be done, done right, and put into the Skycar as soon as possible.

Electronic piloting is feasible now - most commercial jets can now be flown and even landed automatically - many people are not aware that the pilot actually needs to fly the jet for only about 2 minutes during the entire trip - also many unmanned vehicles are being used by the military.

Electronic piloting is being considered by large aircraft manufacturers - "Will the captain of a future ultra-high-capacity airline be on the flightdeck or the ground?" was quoted from an interview article with Bernard Ziegler, Airbus Senior VP for Engineering and former pilot, in Flight International, 9/23/92.

It has been suggested by aircraft safety researchers that, in emergency situations, more commercial airline passengers have died due to pilot error than have been saved due to pilot action.

Only minimal development is needed to adapt electronic piloting to the Skycar's aerodynamics - all elements of the technology are available now, or within easy reach - of course, software will have to be written for the Skycar system.

Although even the earliest version of the M400 Skycar will provide a great deal of electronic assistance to the pilot, and therefore will be easy to fly and safe compared with other aircraft, the Skycar's market potential will be limited until full electronic piloting is available.

The Skycar and ground facility computers will, under electronic piloting, automatically handle self-test, takeoff and landing sequences, cruising, navigating, communicating with air traffic control, maneuvering in gusts, avoiding other aircraft, and other normal flight operations.

The passengers will only have to tell the Skycar the destination - further instructions will be optional, and limited to speed, altitude, and request for change of flight path or early landing.

Electronic flight rules will eliminate the vast majority of possible airspace conflicts due to pilot or controller error - one of the flight rules would use prearranged highways in the sky.

Skycar ground controller and dispatcher

Skycar ground controllers and dispatchers will monitor Skycar movements.

The dispatcher's primary task will be to set up Skycar trips in response to passenger requests.

The dispatchers will also provide other services before, during, and after the flight, including coordinating ground transportation - taxis, limousines, buses, car rental, etc.

The Skycar ground controller essentially combines the functions of a ground-based pilot and an air traffic controller.

The ground controller will manage real-time information to, from, and between Skycars, the conventional air traffic control, weather sources, etc. - this is especially needed when a Skycar's radar visibility is limited by a heavy storm to about 10 miles.

The Skycar ground controller can take supervisory control of a Skycar in case an emergency overwhelms the on-board human pilot or (later) the electronic pilot system.

The likelihood of a Skycar transportation system outage due to failures at any single ground facility would be eliminated by having another facility within range to take over operation, if needed.


The light aircraft market

The initial market for the Skycar will be corporations and wealthy or owner-operators who wish to pilot the vehicle themselves or retain a pilot and replace their private helicopter or small airplane - Moller already has over 100 orders for M400's - this market includes small business people, doctors, sales representatives, upper managers in companies and government, etc.

The M400 Skycar should be able to compete successfully against light airplanes, and against small helicopters where extended hovering is not required - the Skycar can be used for news gathering and traffic reporting, courier and small parcel delivery, and corporate, hobby and recreational transportation.

The regional airline market

When electronic piloting is implemented, the Skycar can be used by regional airlines to improve service - it can provide superior service at a similar cost to the short hop jet - the initial fare for a Skycar regional airline would be 18 per passenger mile for a 200 mile trip, based on a model of the operational costs for a regional airline using data from Aircraft Economics, March 1993 - this compares to conventional aircraft fares of 13 to 35 per passenger mile.

Skycar Improves Service for Regional Airtravel

Short time between flights -- as often as every 5 min. on busy routes
Shorter check-in and boarding time -- be airborne in as little as 5 minutes
Guaranteed flight any time of the day -- an option
Guaranteed flight -- 10X fewer delays due to maintenance or poor weather
Flights to small cities -- on routes having as few as 10 passengers/hour
Direct flights between cities separated by less than 700 miles
Flights landing near or in cities -- on very small landing sites

The Skycar can even compete on some 400-2000 mile trips - it may have a somewhat higher ticket price than the conventional aircraft, but passengers will not have to wait for a scheduled departure or wait at intermediate airports.

Why the M400 Ride Is Similar in Cost to the Regional Jet Ride

M400 has:

Results in:

4 times lower cost per seat than jet $50K, not $200K per passenger seat purchase cost
Fewer service employees No pilots or cabin attendants for air taxi -
fewer baggage, ticket handlers
More passenger seats filled Jet = 50%- 67% due to fixed schedule -
anticipate over 80% for M400 with fly on demand
Quick stopover plus return
to cruise speed
12 minutes fuel stop vs 30 - 60 minute for jet
Lower maintenance and spares cost Spare M-400s are quickly available if immediate
maintenance is needed - very few parts are needed.

Trips significantly longer than 450 miles may require short rest stops for the passengers - the vehicle will need to be refueled every 900 miles.

Travelers may even enjoy the refueling stops on long Skycar trips - they can, for example visit attractions such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or Las Vegas - an option not easily available to current airline passengers.

Law enforcement and rescue

With or without electronic piloting, the Skycar makes an excellent police vehicle - it can respond instantly, fly between buildings to pursue and trap criminals, assess situations, and control crowds.

The Skycar can be used for such operations as search and rescue, ambulance, ski patrol, forest fire patrol, disaster evacuation, and relief - it surpasses helicopters for most applications not requiring long hover or large payload - helicopters can typically respond to only 30% of calls, but the Skycar, which is able to fly at night, operate in most weather conditions, and land in smaller areas, should have close to a 90% response rate.

The US Coast Guard can use M400 Skycars to perform border and drug patrol, and search and rescue at sea.

The Moller Skycar should, because of superior capability, ease of use, and lower cost, greatly expand the use of air vehicles in law enforcement, small quasi-military police actions, surveillance, and rescue operations - the future 6-passenger vehicle will be particularly useful as an ambulance.


The M400 Skycar has characteristics and options that can exceed those of many other air vehicles for government agencies and military uses.

The VTOL Skycar can take off or land on a small area - its fan blades are enclosed for safety - no airport or other permanent ground facility is needed.

The Skycar appears to be the only aircraft usable by the Navy on non-aircraft ships - due to its 1/10 second reaction time and enclosed fan blades it could take off or land on a small deck even in rough seas.

The Skycar is small, simple, easy to maintain, and can be transported without disassembly.

The Skycar avoids detection - it is small, quiet, cool, and hugs the ground - it also outmaneuvers other unmanned air vehicles, helicopters, and reconnaissance aircraft.

Optional Kevlar armor would make the Skycar impervious to small automatic gunfire - also, since no part is flight-critical, the Skycar can continue to fly with a hole shot through it in any direction.

Unmanned autonomous or remotely controlled use of Skycars is practical, with larger payload (1000 lbs) than for other unmanned autonomous vehicles - the Skycar also has a longer flight endurance, and is sufficiently capable to handle many missions that previously required a human pilot, making it cheaper and more expendable for hazardous missions.

The Skycar can be used by military personnel as an "air jeep" or ambulance - going faster, further, and in a greater variety of weather and battle conditions than small helicopters - it can descend for landing in enemy territory in 3 minutes from an altitude of 20,000 feet.

The Skycar can be considered for various military missions (updated Feb. 2001)

1. Medical evacuation
2. Surveillance
3. Search & rescue
4. Future Combat System support vehicle
5. Reconnaissance (intelligence, battle damage assessment, etc.)
6. Special Operations Force insertion/extraction
7. Communications retransmission platform
8. Jamming platform
9. Unmanned variants to perform duties in dirty, high-risk environments
10. Weapons platform

While large helicopters and reconnaissance and fighter airplanes will continue to be needed in the military setting to carry heavy firepower or armor, the Skycar should capture a significant share of the lightweight portion of this market, as well as expanding it for new missions.


Stage 1 (2002-2005): Pilot required

Production: 10 vehicles in 2002, up to 200 vehicles/yr by 2005
Skycar price: $995,000 initially, $350,000 with five years
Sales: $9 million in 2002, up to $150 million/yr by 2005

Before being commercially available, the Skycar needs to be extensively flight tested. A flight test program will be designed specifically for the Skycar and modified as experience is gained.  Two or three years of flight test is anticipated.

The Skycar may be certified in 2003 in the US as a "powered lift" vehicle, to be operated under similar rules as other general aviation - sales begin to the general light aircraft market.

Moller International forms a strategic alliance with a large aerospace company for development and manufacturing.

Full-scale effort is launched to develop or adapt electronic flight rules, electronic piloting, air traffic control, radars, noise abatement, and manufacturing processes.

Stage 2 (2005+): Pilot optional

Production: 1000/yr (until electronic pilot)

Skycar price: $500,000

Sales: $500 million/yr

FAA certification is obtained for electronic flight rules aiding the pilot - introduction of the "highways in the Sky" concept

Flight rules during this stage would be simple and low risk - they would include: land only at authorized locations, extend landing gear when near ground, not run out of fuel, use position information from other Skycars, stay away from other aircraft and airports, not take off if automatic checkoff found some essential equipment not operational.

The Skycar's first major market - as an air limousine - will be where air traffic regulations can be easily adapted, liability concerns are not unreasonable, transportation is currently inadequate, and considerable development capital is available - definitely outside of the US, probably in Asia.

Factory is built with future capacity to produce 10,000 Skycars/yr.

Stage 3 (2008+): Electronic piloting

Production: 10,000/yr

Skycar price: $300,000

Sales: $3 billion/yr

Avionics and ground support electronics for full electronic piloting are installed in new Skycars - dispatch/control stations and old Skycars are retrofitted.

A program is set up to help passengers with the transition to electronic control - as soon as people see how easy and safe electronically controlled flight is, only brief instruction will be needed.

The Skycar moves into commercial fleet operations in the US and Europe to meet high demand as these countries revise their aircraft regulations, to permit the extremely safe electronic piloting.

As the public accepts the electronically piloted vehicle, demand should increase and the air taxi service can be quickly expanded - eventually, the new air taxi service will largely supersede the old human-piloted air limousine service, and much short-hop commercial aircraft service. 

Skycar Models




Flight lengths - typical

10 - 200 miles

20 - 500 miles

50 - 500 miles

Number of seats/passengers




Number of engines








Gross weight

600 lbs

2,400 lbs

3,000 lbs

Fuel Capacity

10 gallons

60 gallons

50 gallons

Fuel to lift to 5,000 ft

0.13 gallon

0.5 gallon

0.6 gallon

Fuel rate for commercial cruise

40 mpg

20 mpg


In this stage, manufacturing will begin to be shared with other companies, partly to fend off competition - Moller will need to initiate additional strategic partnerships and offset arrangements.

Stage 4 (Beyond 2010): Widespread use

Production: over 100,000 / year

Skycar price: $200,000

Sales: over $20 billion/yr

Private ownership will increase, but most people will still use the Skycar on a per-trip basis.

Specialized Skycar models will be developed for the military, stunt flying, handicapped, ambulance, landing on water, package delivery, etc.

Skycar market matures, with expansion into major transportation sectors of many countries including large incursions into the automobile market.

Additional factories built for production in excess of 100,000/yr.

Total cost of all stages: No direct experience to estimate from

The cost of developing a Skycar and making the production facilities for an electronically piloted vehicle appears to fall between $1.5 billion and $5 billion - projects of similar complexity at Boeing, the Space Station and the 777 airplane, suggest that approximately $3 billion of funding will be needed.

The Skycar project could have a much lower cost because it will be an integrated evolutionary design - by having about 50 times fewer people and parts to coordinate than a typical Boeing aircraft, it can have rapid prototyping and testing as well as using more innovative technology.

Or the Skycar project could have a higher cost because the design and manufacturing groups may not have the needed experience with composites, small aircraft, integrated design, software design - there may also be political delays in some countries, such as the US, plus additional costs in setting up ground controllers and integration with existing air transportation systems.


Primary risks to high volume development would include difficulty in completing the systems for electronic piloting. Weight and complexity of the avionics may require further development.

Other risks of development include inability to sufficiently abate noise inside and outside the aircraft, early phase safety and comfort, and FAA reluctance to make the appropriate changes (in the US).

Another concern is the reliability of the thrust deflection system - this is about the only weakness in the Skycar's otherwise elegant design - the constant motion of the deflection vanes to provide a smooth ride in turbulent conditions could necessitate a redesign for added strength.

There is a risk during development from potential competitors who have studied the Moller design. Patents provide reasonable protection.


While other inventors have come up with VTOL designs, none of the other designs are practical enough to be considered as competition to the Skycar - they all have too many flight critical parts, fly too slowly, consume too much fuel, and have other limitations.

Current competitors don't have the patented engine technology, redundancy, aerodynamic stability, avionics, safety backups, noise abatement, low fuel consumption, electronic piloting, and many other features needed to make a vehicle of this type practical.

How Did the Competition Stack Up? (need to update) 


M400 Skycar

Sky Commuter

Car Plane
(U of Ariz.)

Can it still fly when an engine dies?




Does design utilize aerodynamic lift for fuel economy?




Can it be used at night, and in poor weather?




Is it independent of special ground facilities, e.g. airports?




Will it be free from unacceptable air and noise pollution?

Yes Yes

No No

Yes No

Will it be safer than auto?




To give just one example - stable, controlled flight using multiple engines with vectored thrust in vertical, horizontal, and transitional modes, and in all weather conditions, is not easy to achieve - a major national laboratory, after seeing an earlier Moller design, tried and failed to make one that could fly.

Paul Moller has overcome the difficulties, through 25 years of experience and building numerous working models - competitors have simply not had Moller's experience and dedication to the task.

Technical feasibility

Moller spent 10 years developing a powerful, lightweight rotary engine that is efficient and low cost - 2 horsepower per pound at a cost of $50 per horsepower - this development was so successful, Moller has spun off a separate engine company to market these engines for other applications.

During the initial investigation of the Skycar, Boeing was concerned that its small wings would not have sufficient aerodynamic lift - however, after further study, Boeing concluded that the Moller design provides more than adequate lift - 75% of its lift derives from the shape of the nacelles and body.

The Skycar is unique in being able to exploit electronic piloting - it has a low aspect ratio (is minimally affected by downdrafts), no external moving parts, an extremely fast response propulsion system, is not required to be compatible with previous piloted aircraft, has adequate on-board computer power, sufficient communications and sensors, and is a small enough vehicle to allow short design cycles.

Although the M-400 Skycar has not yet completed an initial flight test, engineers from Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and NASA are confident that it will fly - a previous model, the Moller 200, has successfully completed 200 flights.

Why the market potential is huge

The idea of a new transportation vehicle such as the Skycar building up a huge market in under ten years is not unreasonable - the jet engine completely superseded the old prop engine on commercial airliners within 6 years - this required extending airport runways, as well as designing, building, and selling new airplanes.

Our expectation of a huge market is also based on the idea that the Skycar will not just take market share from current forms of transportation, it will actually expand transportation use - people will take more trips, and will go to places they haven't been able to get to before.

Market Share Expected in Selected Markets


% share
Stage III

% share
Stage IV

Number of Skycars
Stage III


Japan - HS Rail





Taiwan - HS Rail





US Regional Airline





US Auto long distance





US Auto commute





Seattle Light Rail









All functions of the Skycar operation - development, manufacture, operation, maintenance and ground traffic control - will be driven by the profit motive - this is far better than mass transit projects, which invariably are not self-supporting and so increase taxes.

Why Asia is an appropriate early market

Asian countries have intense urban traffic congestion - ground traffic averages less than 5 mph in Jakarta and Bangkok - cities with more than five million people are enduring traffic congestion unimaginable in the US.

A significant number of Asians can afford to pay for better service - there will be over 1,000,000 millionaires in China by the year 2000 - India has largest middle class in the world with 150,000,000 people need to update.

Asia has natural gas, which is ideal for Skycars and even better than gasoline in Asia - by the year 2000 it is predicted that Pacific Rim demand will outstrip regional supplies of oil by nearly 3 to 1, and that 90% of the region’s oil imports will come from the Persian Gulf - the Asian countries with largest natural gas production are Indonesia, Australasia, Malaysia, and China.

Several Asian countries are spending immense sums of money to set up aviation industries - the Skycar could be designed and prototyped in US and manufactured in Asia for Asians - providing jobs as well as exports.

Asian countries do not have over-restrictive liability laws - for example, the American-made R44 helicopter is being sold in Asia but not yet in the US.

Asian topography, islands, dense forests, fast population growth, and inadequate infrastructure, both in urban and rural areas, stresses current transportation systems.


Paul S. Moller

President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Moller International, Inc., a Davis, California company.

Received his ME and PhD degrees at McGill University in Canada in 1961 and 1963.

Former professor at University of California at Davis in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering - founded the Aeronautical Engineering program at U.C. Davis.

Founded Moller International in 1983 to develop the Skycar.

Has invested 25 years, over $59 million, and 600,000 man-hours developing the Skycar - graduate students completed over 900 projects toward the Skycar.

His Skycar technology was granted a comprehensive US patent in May, 1992, followed by foreign patents in major industrial countries.

Moller International, Inc.

Moller has received 100 deposits to date (1995) to reserve Skycars for delivery after FAA certification.

Is currently developing the 4-passenger M400 Skycar, and has plans for 1, 2, and 6 passenger models.

Aerobotics Inc. was recently spun off to produce the Aerobot, their aerial robotic unmanned VTOL vehicle powered by gasoline or electricity - customers include Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) and the US Department of Defense.

The Freedom Engine company focuses on rotary engine applications and manufacturing. It is majority owned by Moller International.

What's next for the Moller Skycar

Moller has worked with the FAA to develop certification standards for powered lift vehicles - certification of the Skycar is expected within a few years.

Greater engine efficiency will permit the Skycar to carry a 20% greater payload, approximately 240 lbs - one additional passenger or more luggage.

Greater engine efficiency and lighter electronics will permit evolution to a 6-passenger vehicle (but not larger - 6 passengers pushes the limit of this technology) - the larger vehicle could carry more cargo instead of more passengers, or be modified for rescue, ambulance, as well as military uses.

Noise cancellation technology and advanced fan design can be employed to provide additional noise abatement.

Lightning strike and de-icing remain to be addressed, but many potential solutions are available from other aircraft experience.

About the authors

Henry Lahore became interested in the Moller M400 skycar while working in a preliminary design team in Boeing Defense & Space Group, where his job as a systems engineer was to investigate new technologies with potential military and commercial markets that would be viable in a 5 to 15-year time horizon. Prior to that he worked on autonomous air, ground, and underwater vehicles.

He initiated an investigation of the Skycar design which concluded that the concept was not only feasible, it was elegant. Although Boeing has not broken with their long-standing policy of ignoring small aircraft, Henry has continued to be very interested in the Skycar.

Henry believes that the Skycar mass transportation proposal is realistic and inevitable. He hopes his efforts will enable it to happen years sooner than otherwise. He is on the technical advisory board for Moller International and working at Boeing.

Henry's wife, Judy Lahore, wrote up the original Skycar presentation while she was a technical writer at Boeing, and continues to be very interested in the concept.


Mark my word: A combination airplane and motor car is coming. You may smile. But it will come . . . .

— Henry Ford, 1940

The roads to support them [autos], inadequate though they are, cost as much as a small war; the analogy is a good one, for the casualties are on the same scale.

— A. C. Clarke, Profile of the Future, 1984

The automobile is the paradoxical example of a luxury object that has been devalued by its own spread. But this practical devaluation has not yet been followed by an ideological devaluation.

— Andre Gortz, as reported in USA Today, Sept. 1989

Cars confer on their owners virtually limitless freedom as long as their numbers remain limited.

— Michael Renner, Worldwatch, June 1988, pg 46

Cars are an urban thrombosis . . . that slowly deprives the city of its lifeblood.

— Kirkpatrick Sale, quoted in Worldwatch, June 1988, pg 46

The high speed rail is a plan for the economically illiterate.

— Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines CEO, quoted in Railway Age, April 1991, pg 49

Why is it so difficult to replace the auto? Cars do the best job of transporting us and our belongings from exactly where we are to exactly where we want to go at the time, velocity, and route of our choice, in privacy, and with relative security from assault or bad weather.

— Judy Lahore, 1991

The auto, when introduced, was 5 times as fast, and as convenient as, the horse; as soon as it became affordable, people gave up the horse - the Skycar is 5 times as fast, and as convenient as, the auto; therefore...!

         — Judy Lahore, 1991

I have been very impressed with Moller's work, he knows what he is doing, and has been systematically and correctly addressing the technical issues. . . . It's really a breakthrough for the type and concept, and it has merits from a cost standpoint that show promise to be a future personal transportation system. — John Zuk, Chief, NASA's Office of Civil Transport

Every country that had developed the affluence to afford individual mobility opts for it.

— David Cole, Audubon Magazine, May 1993

If the telephone industry were operating at 1900 levels of productivity, it would need 4 billion workers to do today's job. — EastsideWeek, July 7 ,1993

Show me a man over thirty who regularly takes the bus, and I will show you a life failure - quote from a mass transit official. — Edge City, pg 130

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. — Alan Key

The physical layout of our society requires cars. No mass ground transit arrangement can rival an automobile's comfort, privacy, and flexibility of route and schedule. (the most-used public ground transportation - even among the poor - is the taxicab). — J. Baldwin, "Green Cars", in Garbage, June/July 1993

The best invention makes you forget how you ever lived without it. — Anonymous

The forces to bring about the change in personal transportation are already present and well known: clean-air regulations; the local and global pollution from fossil fuel engines; the finitude of petroleum supplies; growing concerns about congestion and safety. — Audubon Magazine, May 1993

People will not leave their cars until there is a BETTER alternative. — Anonymous

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