12/20/2013

From The Fifth Element, Source: Wikipedia
Flying cars have been a dream of science fiction for decades. It seems like every movie set in the distant or even immediate future has flying cars hurtling through the skies. Yet here we are in 2013, and the flying car is nowhere near as ubiquitous. Hey, Science, where's our flying car? Well, it turns out there are some big reasons why we don't have them. Let's run them down.


1. Flying Cars Are Complicated

First, let's look at the mechanics of what we usually think of and see in movies as "flying cars." Even though a form of "flying car" would be a small airplane with wings you can fold up, that's usually not what we want. A flying car usually is portrayed as sort of like a hovercraft with little jet engines where the wheels would go. The car lifts straight off the ground, flies through the air, and then lowers itself down to land.

That's what's known as a VTOL, a vertical-takeoff-and-landing-vehicle. Although the movies make it look easy, VTOL are a nightmare of engineering in real-life.The problem isn't getting an aircraft to go straight up and down. We've got that down with helicopters. The problem isn't getting an aircraft to go forward and backward. We've got that down with planes. The critical problem is the point where it switches between the two. At that point, the vehicle can lose lift or speed without making the switch successfully. That makes it either really slow or really low to the ground. Not what we want.


2. Flying Cars Aren't Practical

With its narrow size and low noise, cars are relatively easy to drive around and park in an urban environment. Airplanes are not. No one would want to drive a flying car with enormous rotors or jet engines. It would make the car hard to drive, and hard to get into the small spaces that cars are used to. That's why the movie versions have little, tiny engines on their cars. But in reality, a flying car would need enormous rotors or jets to get off the ground. That would give the flying car a wide footprint.

It would also make the flying car sound like an airplane; very, very loud. No one would want to be around when it took off, flew, or landed, so it would make the flying car a nightmare in a crowded city. People would fight to keep flying cars restricted to airports, which defeats the purpose of having them. Imagine hundreds of them roaring in the skies and streets, and garages the size of aircraft hangars, and you'd see why they haven't become commonplace.


3. Flying Cars Are Dangerous

Pilots are more highly regulated than drivers because aircraft are more dangerous. While it's often said it's safer to fly than drive, that's going by current flight patterns per person. If everyone drove, the fatality rate goes way up. When a car gets into an accident, usually the only damage is done to the cars involved. Occasionally, the car will hit something, but it's not as bad as when an aircraft crashes. When any aircraft crashes, there's usually more damage, which involves broken parts and burning gasoline spread for miles.

The bottom line is that we can barely trust people to drive on roads where the only choices are forward, backward, left, and right. The thought of adding up and down to the equation is enough to make federal regulators wake up screaming at night.Would you want the teenager who drove by you at a hundred miles an hour texting on her phone to be behind the controls of an airplane?

That's the impact for someone outside the vehicle. Now let's look at the inside: the driver and passengers. When your car breaks down, it's bad news. It means pulling over to the side of the road, calling AAA, and other stuff. When an airplane breaks down, it means plummeting hundreds of feet to the ground. Plus, if everyone has a flying car, they wouldn't all go through the extensive safety checks airplanes do now. Most people don't change their car's oil on time. In a flying car, that negligence would be deadly.


4. Flying Cars Are Expensive

Cars are expensive, but nowhere near the cost of what a flying car would cost. The difficulty of making any flying car is going to make it expensive. The jet engines or rotors powerful enough to lift it off the ground will cost much, much more than a car.

For comparison, let's look at the real world example, the Terrafugia. The Terrafugia is really more of an airplane with collapsible wings to make it a road-worthy vehicle. Its cost is $279,000. Other hypothetical flying cars could cost as much as ten million dollars. Would you pay that much to replace your Honda Civic?


5. We Don't Need Flying Cars

The biggest barrier to everyone adopting flying cars is that we really don't need them. Cars are convenient, cheap, and relatively easy to maintain. To switch to flying cars would be an increase in cost, less safe, and harder to maintain. When you get right down to it, the regular old car looks pretty good.

Would you still want a flying car? Do you think we'll ever see flying cars in common use?

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6 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

Agree that people already suck at driving on roads. In the air would be much worse.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Dangerous should be the number one reason.

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Tony Laplume said...

I think we can do flying cars when we've mastered regular cars, and other matters. All these point have the "for now" proviso. In the future, most of them won't matter at all. They're be as simple for Tony Laplume 2099 to figure out as Tony Laplume 2013!

Rusty Carl said...

If we get to the point where we can have reliable computer controlled navigation then we can look at taking to the skies! I've always been leery of having a flying vehicle because I've been driving my car and it just went kaput right there on the interstate.


So I just pulled over and figured out what I was going to do.


What happens if I'm 500 feet in the air and it all goes kablooy? I just fall like a brick? No thanks.

Yolanda Renee said...

Not a fan of flying or boating - or anything with lots of height! I'm a motion sickness kind of gal - hell - it's hell! LOL I'll stay on the ground!

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