[FoRK] Where the F&@# is my flying car?

Russell Turpin < deafbox at hotmail.com > on > Mon Sep 11 15:45:29 PDT 2006

Eugen Leitl <eugen at leitl.org>:
>Stabilizing a personal VTOL aircraft in a cluttered urban
>environment is a control nightmare. Letting people fly is just
>not an option. Building such an advanced controller in a cheap
>enough package reliable enough to be insured is the reason
>personal aircraft hasn't been happening yet.

It seems to me there are two related issues of some significance. The
automobile has the great advantage over air travel that one can
stop practically anywhere, for anytime, for any reason: to buy
cigarettes or coke, to drop off laundry on the way out of town, to
give a young daughter a chance to relieve herself yet again, to
take a picture from a scenic overlook, to stretch the driver's legs,
or because something has suddenly become a barrier to one's path of
travel. Movies that show flying cars as the wave of the future, such
as 5th Dimension, often give them a similar behavior. They are not
just short take-off and landing, but hover, at any height, without
harming whatever happens to be underneath. And have good midair
brakes. That makes thematic sense, and for the same reason, it is
an important part of what would make a personal flying device truly
useful. Alas, it is also a much more difficult engineering problem
that building a small airplane.

The other issue is the converse. Not only can one stop a car almost
anywhere for arbitrary desire, but a car stopping when not desired
usually is no great problem. Yes, if you're on a Houston freeway
when your waterpump moves its last drop, or when your fuel filter
becomes completely clogged, or when your timing belt breaks, your
car will be towed quickly by a company who has won the city
concession for moving inoperable vehicles from the freeways. Most
times, you're able to pull over to the side of the road or limp to
some parking lot, where you can arrange for tow or repairs more
conveniently. An airplane losing its engine has a larger problem.
Not usually a matter of safety. Because this circumstance now is
rare, because planes usually fly at significant altitude, and
because airports immediately answer such emergencies, a pilot who
loses power most times has the time and opportunity to find a safe
place to land. This all changes if a large fraction of the commuters
are flying their cars about the city. These will break down as
frequently as cars do, because most people will do no better at
maintaining them than they do their ground cars. Altitudes will be
lower, because no one flies to 5,000 feet just to get across town.
And airports aren't going to be answering the needs of hundreds of
thousands of flyers.

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