No flying cars, but flying motorcycles are closer than you think
“This is the future, now where the heck is my flying car?” This common humorous refrain encapsulates an important truth, as does all good humor: The promises of 20th Century science fiction have largely come to fruition. We’ve got Star Trek-style communicators and the beginnings of commercial space flight. However, the 21st Century lacks common science fiction tropes like time travel and teleportation of large objects. While these examples are far out on the cutting edge of innovation (if, indeed, they are physically possible at all), flying cars are something so simple and elegant, that many may ask themselves “where the heck is my flying car?”
In fact, we have flying cars of various types. The so-called 'roadable aircraft' inverts the paradigm. Rather than a flying car, it’s an airplane modified to be street legal for automobile roads. However, when most people speak of a 'flying car,' they’re talking about something totally different. The flying car in most people’s minds is more like the modified DeLorean from Back To The Future, a car that “doesn’t need roads,” in the words of Doc Brown. NASA has established protocols for what counts as a “personal air vehicle,” their technical term for a flying car: It must be quiet, comfortable and reliable, in the same price range as a car, able to be driven by anyone with a driver’s license and an all-weather vehicle. Further, NASA demands that such vehicles rely primarily upon alternative fuels and boast cruising speeds between 150 and 200 mph. Anything less is hardly an improvement over the internal combustion machines which seem increasingly antiquated.
While many companies and innovation-oriented individuals have tried to make a personal air vehicle, no one has yet made anything that can practically be brought to market. But Dezso Molnar might be the one to cross the finish line first. His personal air vehicle isn’t a flying car, however: It’s a flying motorcycle. The man boasts no small amount of experience when it comes to constructing air vehicles. The flying motorcycle, called a “gyrocycle,” is just plain cool, to be sure. But it also might be the thing that finally gets America off of paved roads and into the sky.
The gyrocycle operates both as an autogyro (something between an airplane and a helicopter) and a motorcycle, depending on user preference. The plan is that a user would fly it as a gyrocopter close to a destination, then start driving it like a motorcycle. This actually isn’t all that different from a standard autogyro, other than shape, save for one key innovation: The propeller is retractable. This is what makes the gyrocycle more practical for every day transportation than a standard autogyro. Whereas the latter is only practical on a “one per rooftop” basis, the former can easily be brought onto the road and used as a land vehicle.
Still, getting the world to make the transition is difficult. First of all, the vehicle has some serious drawbacks, not least of all that it only carries a single passenger. This makes it a useful vehicle for the urban commuter, but not so useful for people living in the suburbs. Further, many people will be reticent to use a vehicle that comes off the ground, due to general fear of flying. Even Molnar himself acknowledges that there is limited appeal to his vehicle at present time. He plans to market the gyrocycle in 2013 -- to people interested in racing and adventurous exploration.
Still, Molnar talks about the days of the car replacing the horse and buggy. Eventually the availability of the technology reaches a critical mass and infrastructure begins reshaping itself to match the innovation. To do so, however, the gyrocycle will eventually have to reach out beyond wealthy adventurers and race enthusiasts.
Pros: The gyrocycle is designed by a man who knows his way around aviation. It is for the person who wants a quick and easy form of transportation that doesn’t involve sitting around in gridlock all day. It improves upon the autogyro in that it can more easily be driven on a road and has a retractable propeller. Further, the gyrocycle mock-ups boast a sleek, futuristic style that will appeal to forward-thinking consumers in the general consumer market.
Cons: Some infrastructure changes would be needed and a critical mass must be reached before the gyrocycle can truly cross over. Further, the vehicle is necessarily only for single commuters -- and wealthy ones at that -- making it necessarily a niche phenomenon, although a multi-passenger version -- which is apparently being worked on with the help of Brazilian astronaut Marcos Puentes -- would allay concerns over this flaw.