back to article NASA comp fails to produce flying cars

A NASA-sponsored competition designed to encourage the development of personal aircraft was won on Saturday by a modified Slovenian aircraft piloted by an Australian. The winning Pipistrel Virus. Nice, but no flying car. The inaugural Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) challenge event was held at the Charles Schultz Sonoma County …


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  1. Kurt Guntheroth

    falling cars

    Just in case there is any non-pilot left in the world that thinks flying cars are a good idea, when you go home from work this evening, count the number of dead cars by the roadside. Now imagine each of these cars falling 1000 meters onto a random part of your favorite city, spraying bits of metal, hot fuel, and chunks of passengers all around. Can't happen? Then why are there dead cars on the roadside?

  2. Colin Jackson

    The what?

    "Pipistrel Virus" - what kind of marketing dork came up with that particular brand??


  3. John Mcdonald

    Perish the thought

    Alarming - Our roads are already full of ignorant, disourteous and blind muppets who think 'spatial awareness' is something from Star Trek. There's really no need to transfer them to the skies as well ...

    You can imagine the carnage "Rather, he or she would use "synthetic vision", a screen showing the terrain below, other aircraft in the sky, and probably a virtual "pipe" or "tunnel" in the sky, down which the air-traffic computers had routed the plane" if Microsoft were ever to be involved, it would be a create a whole new meaning for the Blue Screen of Death.

  4. Pete James

    Flying car my arse

    More chance of Jo Guest getting her bangers out in my car than a flying one being realistically available for the masses.

    Besides which, do you really want the future iteration of a Nova-driving pikey chav to be allowed to annoy you with a Max-powered winged version? Heaven forbid!

  5. Graham Bartlett

    Re: falling cars

    Taking planes to the masses does require fixing exactly the problem that Kurt describes. If it's going to be a mass-market means of transport, it's got to be robust. The Moller Skycar is a good example of this - for all that it was only a prototype, it had redundancy on redundancy for what are already pretty reliable components, to ensure that it *doesn't* fall out of the sky. In particular, some VTOL (or at least VL) capability to get you down safely when something goes wrong is vital. A single-engine light aircraft just doesn't cut it.

    That doesn't mean that the "sky car" is impossible, just that the engineering assumptions that go into it need to be different. The engineering assumption for safety on a car is "if it all turns to worms, the engine cuts out and the driver pulls over". Doesn't work on a plane though, for pretty obvious reasons.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sky car already exists!

    It's been developed by Moller International. It's called the M400 Skycar Volantor. They just won some nice DOD contracts for their rotapower engines to be used in UAV's. Very efficient, and can run on virtually anything. I think their cars will be mainstream far earlier than anything in this article. Interesting that the Reg hasn't yet picked up on them... they've had a lot of coverage and been very successful with their tests.

  7. Brian

    Solved last week...

    Wasn't this solved last week? Take 1 normal car; attach gecko feet. Viola.

  8. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    flying cars post 9/11? I don't think so

    As if car bombs aren't bad enough, flying car bombs would be much worse. Imagine a flying-car load of anfo (with proper detonators and the like) crashing into a building. This has nothing to do with technology, but with security. If everyone has access to heavy (OK not hummer weight, but still heavy) flying machines there is a potential for causing huge amounts of damage. Outside the USA people take a dim view on allowing just anyone access to heavy weaponry. It is for just this reason that hobby rocketeers are not allowed to put a guidance system into their rockets (changing them from mere rockets into missiles).

  9. Barry

    Biggest roadblock to flying cars

    I used to have an office with a window that looked out onto a parking lot. After watching people (trying) to park for six months, I concluded that we will never, ever, ever have flying cars.

  10. Alan Donaly


    engine noise cuts out and lights begin to flicker

    momentarily an orange danger sign on the dash

    and then plummeting earthward towards an all

    but empty concrete motorway and all you can think

    about is that envelope you got in the mail yesterday,

    you didn't read marked "urgent, product recall information


  11. Morely Dotes

    Find the plans for the Dean Drive

    Then we can talk about flying cars.

    But considering that your average groundcar driver knows bugger all about piloting even when he can't leave the ground (barring Dukes of Hazard-style jumps, which I can tell you from personal experience play Hobb with the car's suspension and tires), I have to agree with the other commentators here - flying cars for everyone are simply a very, very bad idea.

    On the other hand, I'm betting that private space ventures will be making ground-to-orbit-and-return flights within a decade. It's the only way the billionaires can be sure to get a slice of the wealth available in the Solar system that's above the Earth's atmosphere.

  12. Paul

    Scary thought

    I'm convinced that most people around here got their drivers licenses free inside a box of Cheerios. Any flying car that could ever go safely mass-market will have to fly itself without any user input whatsoever beyond "take me home, car".

    But, I don't trust software to work right either (I've been a programmer for a long time, I know how bad software can be) so that doesn't leave many options for flying the thing.

    The day an affordable flying car for the masses becomes a reality is the day I move home to a concrete underground bunker as far as possible from the majority of those masses...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh no, not again !

    I'm sure the Reg has this story as a recurring entry in their diaries !

    Aviation is a deeply conservative industry crippled by vested interests. It runs on 1940's technologies that it is loathe to leave.

    In the UK there's about one cubic foot of airspace left that isn't controlled. It's about 200 feet up and located in Norfolk where no-one would want to go anyway.

    The idea also runs counter to the strategy of the-powers-that-be to ensure peace through the elimination of personal freedoms.

    So, cheap de-regulated, commoditised aircraft using simplified virtual reality autopilot guidance ? Look, just move on will you? You won't marry Jessica Alba, you won't win the lottery and you won't have flying cars, get over it.

    Oh and as for the Cessna Skyhawk having "good handling" oh dear me no. Huge trim changes, excessive control forces and poor performance are not good handling.

    It's a 1940's based "Ford Pop" of the sky. It's a mother hen that tries to stop you hurting yourself because it knows best.

    So, same story back in 18 months time ?

  14. Lewis Page (Written by Reg staff)

    Miserable bunch

    Gentlemen - I suspect you aren't ladies mostly -

    Blimey, what a miserable bunch of grumpy bastards. I say flying cars are a pleasing idea, if not very practical - and I thought I'd made the problems clear enough in the piece. Much though the Reg ethos - and often enough that of its readers - is very much one of bitter scepticism about technology, the fact is, beneath it all, I'm a believer that tech makes our lives better. And I like to fly, but not having tons of money and spare time I don't have an instrument rating. Flying cars will only ever work if they're almost entirely automatic/remote-automatic controlled, granted. Ground cars, for that matter will only ever cease to be the most dangerous single piece of civilian kit when the same applies to them.

    But. I think total safety is a myth, a dangerous dream foisted on us to limit our potential. Sure - give me a flying car, partly or totally robot controlled. I might still have an accident and hurt myself or some one else. That's true also of domestic gas, household electricity, ground cars, and walking down the stairs.

    Make them all illegal - we'll all live in stone age bungalows - we're all still dead in a hundred years. Or sooner, because we'd never be able to afford modern medicine or stay warm in the winter like that.

    Let's live a little while we still can.

    Anyway: thanks for reading the piece, gents. I appreciate there's no reason you should waste the time. See you again tomorrow.

  15. Robert Fleming

    panic button

    What airplanes can do when they need to pull over to the side of the road suddenly:

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Mike


    And here I thought that _everybody_ on the planet had figured out by now that Moller's revenue is from brochures and "investment", not really flying anything. Unless of course the posters above are trolls.

    Anyway, if you could reduce the production cost of a flying car to zero, the insurance would still price it well beyond my means, and probably those of most Reg readers.

  18. Martin Gregorie

    Re: Miserable bunch


    Like you I'm a pilot, but I fly gliders rather than sitting behind an engine. I prefer it that way because I like the challenge of making long flights on sheer guile and solar power.

    Class G airspace is in enough trouble already without aerial traffic jams. The current push for transponders on everything including balloons is merely preparation for flooding the air with UAVs. Add hordes of flying cars and next thing you know all GA and sport flying will be banned as a danger to them.

    Fortunately for us, the flying car seems no nearer to becoming a reality than it was 60 years ago: arguably the ERCO Ercoupe was closer to succeeding in this role than the M.400 Volantor ever will be.

  19. Adrian Esdaile

    Climb and maintain error in 0x00FF525E....

    "Whisky-Alpha-Niner-Kilo-Echo-Romeo, climb and maintain 2,000m vector 314 outbound Pymble VOR, watch for peak hour traffic to Wallabies match your 11 o'clock, maintain 375kts groundspeed."

    Error in xhtml_script level_flight : unexpected div/0 error oh,








    Having said that, the pic is one sexeh little GA aircraft, and I for one want one!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It won't be a plane

    I suggest looking at the airrobot for an idea of what a flying car may oneday be like. Granted it's only a very light model to date but having hovered one a few cm above my head while trying to see why the camera tilt wasn't responding I feel confident that a larger version would be safer than any personal plane.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how's your father

    "In particular, some VTOL (or at least VL) capability to get you down safely when something goes wrong is vital"

    Perhaps some enterprising company could manufacture clones of the Fiesler Storch, a spindly STOL observation aircraft from WW2 that could take off from a driveway and fly at dead slow speed, into the wind. It is beloved of flight simulator enthusiasts.

    Some companies have remanufacturerd old WW2 aircraft; this story raises the possibility that, a hundred years from now, people play real-life games of Aces High and Warbirds with real-life planes, perhaps in the airspace above a private island. Imagine commuting to work in a Caterham Me163. Or the future equivalent of a Piper Cub, but with a cheesy Fw190 bodykit. And glowing lights on the underside. Hmm.

  22. John Browne

    No real progress,then

    Since 1909, when Alberto Santos-Dumont designed the Demoiselle, a lightweight (250 pound) high-wing monoplane.

    It worked a treat, and quite a lot were built by others, as Santos-Dumont had given away the drawings for free, in an early form of open-source. The drawings were published in Popular Mechanics, June 1910.

    Sure, engines, airframe materials and instrumentation have improved considerably since then, but are we any closer to a personal skycar?

    I doubt it.

  23. Aubry Thonon

    Against flying cars

    Having seen the idiots on the road and the petrol-heads who modify their cars to the point where they're actually dangerous to be on the road... and let's not forget the "joy riders" who wouldn't know their left from their right....

    It's bad enough having them on the ROADS where they have few options in terms of carnage... do you REALLY want these people to have a capability of flying over your house?

    And let's not forget that the top two reasons for plane crashes these days are 1) pilot error; and 2) maintenance f*-up by the airline company. Do you *really* trust the average teenager to maintain this vehicle properly?

    No thanks... I'll forgo the pleasures of the flying car if it means I can sleep at night.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flying Kars?

    Sorry, guys, but despite the froth and spittle, this is really just about upgrading the avionics systems envolved in General Aviation. Anyone who has flown or ridden in a small, single engined GA aircraft can appreciate that the current collection of 'steam gauges' that comprise today's flight instrument package is hopelessly antique and overcomplicated. That is perhaps the real constraint on more widespread private pilot aviation. Trying to manage the various readings/indications on the instrument panel whilst just incidentally maneuvering a vehicle in three dimensions in intimidating, to say the least.

    Flying the Box, or Flying the Pipe, offers a new paradigm for integrating flight control info that is much more straightforward and, ultimately, safer. Back when this was a more active research project headed by NASA, it enjoyed wide support from the various segments of the aviation industry...including instrument manufacturers and aircraft producers. The FAA/NASA were talking about a new and seperate licensing program to certify pilots with this new equipment, so that they would only be able to fly this type of aircraft.

    Suggesting that this form of instrumentation would immediately result in a mass Chav assault from the air is pretty silly. The problems resolving around traffic congestion could easily be the long pole in the tent...that, and the huge investment in the supporting hardware necessary to manage the airspace...

  25. Matthew Smith

    Re: Scary Thought

    When you have the "take me home, car" autopilot in place, you don't really need to fly. You could have simulations of glorious skies flying past at 400mph displayed on all the windows (viewed from a recumbent position on the back seat) when in reality you are sat in a tailback on the M40, or trundling along on a conveyor belt in a tunnel.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hey Martin ,

    Gliding is the way to go , as Philip Wills put it "powered flight is only useful for death or dividends"

    ie To kill people (Airforce)or to make money(Airlines)!

    I have no problems with airspace,(Below 12,500), its over 40k away in one direction and a couple of hundred in all the others, you must live in the wrong part of the world for gliding!

    Come to OZ and enjoy some large free skies.

    I am guessing your'e not The Martin G from BVGC!


  27. Misha Gale

    Software failures will kill is all!

    To all the people convinced that we're all going to be killed by BSOD-ing autopilots: Just because Word crashes 3 times a day, the same does not apply to safety critical real-time applications. The reason general purpose software is crappy is because testing gets relegated to an "if we have time" activity and the EULAs all disclaim responsibility for damage to life and limb.

    On the other hand, control systems for the big robot arm with the rotating knives in factories, for some reason, is held to a rather higher standard. They have failsafes and redundancies, and extensive, properly structured test strategies. This is why the computers in nuclear power plants, commercial airliners, advanced military blowing-stuff-up devices and viral research labs haven't killed us all yet.

    It is also the reason why using off-the-shelf operating systems in ruddy great warships is a bad idea, as Mr Page has pointed out previously.

    Oh, and I can't even drive a land based car, but I still want my bloody flying car!

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