back to article Your Flying Car? Delayed again, but you WILL get it, says Terrafugia

Not long ago the famous Massachusetts startup Terrafugia caused something of a stir by releasing details of a new electric hybrid flying-car design, the TF-X - though the company is now very late in delivering even its less-radical Transition design. The Terrafugia Transition in flight tests accompanied by chase plane …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    Trouble is ...

    As a pilot, I don't want one. I have proper aircraft.

    And, also as a pilot, I don't want TheGreatUnwashed to have easy access to my airspace ... They can't do 2D maneuvering, much less 3D ... or more importantly, 4D.

    1. Matthew 3

      Re: Trouble is ...

      " airspace"?

      When you're on the ground do you drive an Audi by any chance?

      1. Zaphod.Beeblebrox

        @ Neil Charles, Matthew 3, etc. Re: Trouble is ...

        Dear non-pilots, the term "my airspace" refers to that bubble of air surrounding "my aircraft" into which it is dangerous for any other "not my aircraft" to intrude. Given that the great unwashed have substantial difficulty keeping from intruding into "my roadspace" and seem content to think that mere inches of clearance is sufficient, I shudder to think what will happen when they are released from flatland and have to think and manoeuvre in 3D space.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: Zaphod.Beeblebrox Re: @ Neil Charles, Matthew 3, etc. Trouble is ...

          "Dear non-pilots, the term "my airspace" refers to that bubble of air surrounding "my aircraft"...." Yeah, I find ATC does a good job of covering the blind spots. Seeing as it is highly likely any "flying car" will be very tightly restricted in where and at which flight levels it can be a mobile hazard, they will probably present no more risk than you do now.

          "..... Given that the great unwashed have substantial difficulty keeping from intruding into "my roadspace"....." Many years ago there were many that insisted the common man (let alone any woman) was simply too ill-educated and unfamiliar with machinery to be allowed to drive an automobile. That belief was shown to be cobblers too. The key to mass flight will be control through training and regulation, just as used today to ensure most motorists get through the day without killing each other. And if the system can be made largely automatic then the risk is even further reduced, to the point where you in your non-automated light aircraft actually become more of a risk. Besides, one thing that seems common to all the Terriblefugup ideas is that they are all so hideously expensive so as to make them completely out of the reach of the "great unwashed", so I don't think you or I will have to worry much during our lifetimes.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: Zaphod.Beeblebrox @ Neil Charles, Matthew 3, etc. Trouble is ...

            @Matt Bryant,

            As a pilot (be it for unpowered aeroplanes only) I can safely say that history and experience has already shown that NOT everyone is suitable for flying. Anyone who can learn to drive can learn to fly. Not everyone capable of safely operating a car on a busy intersection is capable of safely flying an aircraft in a busy situation. Keeping track of 6 other aircraft in close proximity to yourself, your own flightpath, speed and altitude and still paying attention to directions from air traffic controllers in a 3D situation is enough to overload some people. Training can help, and a lot of people CAN learn to do it, but some will simply never manage it.

            We are also FAR (very very very far) from being able to automate aircraft to the point where they could manage themselves at all times. Especially in case of engine failures or simply a loss of power (which happens quite regularly in GA). This is also why putting runways inside of built up areas is a BAD idea. Landing shortly after takeoff with only limited altitude and speed just requires space to land. Which wouldn't be available.

            1. Zaphod.Beeblebrox

              @ imanidiot

              "Anyone who can learn to drive can learn to fly."

              I'd have to disagree, though I could probably agree with "most people who can learn to drive can learn to fly".

            2. t.est

              Re: Zaphod.Beeblebrox @ Neil Charles, Matthew 3, etc. Trouble is ...

              I agree with you mostly, except on the point that we would be far from being able to build a craft that can handle it self at all times. We got mostly all the tech that is needed.

              Profitability and bureaucracy is though a big challenge for making it happen. The same problems that almost stopped Orville and Wilbur, not to mention media.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trouble is ...

        Based on local evidence, more likely a Porsche Cayenne.

      3. jake Silver badge

        @Matthew 3 (was: Re: Trouble is ...)

        "When you're on the ground do you drive an Audi by any chance?"

        Nope. Most of mine are pre-1970 frame-up restorations.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trouble is ...

      Yeah, those 4D manoeuvres are a bugger. One slip and your back in 1989

      1. Not That Andrew

        @ AC Re: Trouble is ...

        What he means is the ability to realise if you continue on your present course or take that manoeuvre, then in 10 minutes you will intersect with something else, eg. the ground, restricted airspace, another flying car or an airliner.

        1. jake Silver badge

          @Not That Andrew (was: Re: @ AC Trouble is ...)

          "then in 10 minutes you will intersect with something else"

          Exactly ...

          Beer. But remember, 48 hours between bottle & throttle.

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: @Not That Andrew (was: @ AC Trouble is ...)

            48 hours!! What the hell do you drink?? One unit of alcohol is processed in about one hour, so any reasonable drinking bout is gone in about four hours, and an entire bottle of wine in about twelve! The alcohol count in the body 24 hours after the last drink will be as close to zero as makes no difference. You'd be more impaired from from the coffee with breakfast.

            1. jake Silver badge

              @Intractable Potsherd (was: Re: @Not That Andrew (was: @ AC Trouble is ...))

              I choose to not drink for 48 hours before I go flying. Most of the pilots I know use "24 hours between bottle & throttle". Most of the alcohol might be gone in 24 hours, but the fusels, esters, aldehydes, tannins & other bits & pieces of the chemical soup that makes up fermented beverages seem to hang out quite a bit longer.

              1. t.est

                Re: @Intractable Potsherd (was: @Not That Andrew (was: @ AC Trouble is ...))

                Your quite correct, even if your on the extreme side. As you are a pilot i do commend you.

                Still some people condemn someone that takes 1-2 units (above that is of personal capability) of beer or wine and jumps on the throttle (i refer to cars here). To put things in perspective being a little tired, having your thoughts on other things than driving or just the kind of person who isn't so well coordinated. Is just as or even more dangerous than a couple of beers in traffic.

                Perspective is usually lacked when discussing these matters. If you go for a enforce 0 tolerance, in return you also have to ban eating certain fruits before driving or flying, neither would a little bit aged fruit of any kind be suitable. Doing that is ridiculousness, and therefore so is a zero tolerance view.

                However what we personally decide to do, is a different matter. And I commend you for this, that you said "I choose to". I guess I would be happy to be a passenger, that is if you would do some acrobatics. ;)

                1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                  Thumb Down

                  Re: @Intractable Potsherd (was: @Not That Andrew (was: @ AC Trouble is ...))

                  "......Still some people condemn someone that takes 1-2 units (above that is of personal capability) of beer or wine and jumps on the throttle (i refer to cars here). To put things in perspective being a little tired, having your thoughts on other things than driving or just the kind of person who isn't so well coordinated. Is just as or even more dangerous than a couple of beers in traffic....." Having been in a serious accident with a drunk driver early in my driving experience I took the line of zero tolerance from an early age. The difference with tiredness versus alcohol is, even when you are mentally tired, your body can still make very quick trained reactions (when was the last time you had to think about how to make an emergency stop as opposed to just reflexively doing it?), especially with a kick of adrenaline. But even a little alcohol can seriously impair your reactions and judgement.

      2. Charles Manning

        Well it really is 4D

        With a car you can just stop when things get aa bit ahiry. With a fixed wing you have to keep going. That means you don't just worry about where you are (3D), but where you are going to be there. That adds another DOF.

      3. jake Silver badge

        @AC 09:19 (was: Re: Trouble is ...)

        "Yeah, those 4D manoeuvres are a bugger. One slip and your back in 1989"

        X, Y, Z, and time. 4D. The fact that you don't grok that should worry your nearest & dearest.

        BTW, that's "maneuvers" ...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @AC 09:19 (was: Trouble is ...)

          The fact that you equate spatial dimensions and time is a lot more worrying

          3D is usually read* as real vector space which does not include time

          *unless the reader is an idiot

          1. jake Silver badge

            @AC:1032 (was: Re: @AC 09:19 (was: Trouble is ...))

            "3D is usually read* as real vector space which does not include time"

            So you park yourself in one position in your conveyance of choice? Perhaps you should purchase a tent instead of a vehicle. We were discussing aircraft in the RealWorld[tm], weren't we?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @AC:1032 (was: @AC 09:19 (was: Trouble is ...))

              "So you park yourself in one position in your conveyance of choice? Perhaps you should purchase a tent instead of a vehicle. We were discussing aircraft in the RealWorld[tm], weren't we?"

              3D = a position in 3D space

              maneuvers in 3D space = transition from one 3D coordinate to another w.r.t. Time

              save the 4D for the ultrasound marketeers

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Is on of the correct spellings

          1. jake Silver badge

            @AC11:31 (was: Re: manoeuvres)

            "Is on of the correct spellings"

            If you say so. Ta :-)

    3. Neil Charles

      Re: Trouble is ...

      The great unwashed already have access to 'your' airspace. I was flying about in it last week on my paraglider* and climbed a big hill carrying a 20kg pack to do it. Definitely needed a shower after that.

      * No qualification legally required, but training is highly recommended!

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Neil Charles (was: Re: Trouble is ...)

        Fortunately for me (and you!), my aircraft are never actually in that kind of airspace. Why? Because there is no point. Similar for actual gliders (I got my ticket off of Sutton Bank in the early 1970s, and am still a member of The Yorkshire Gliding Club, despite being a native Californian.

        1. t.est

          Re: @Neil Charles (was: Trouble is ...)

          Is that Yokuts, Yana or some different tribe?

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: jake Re: @Neil Charles (was: Trouble is ...)

          If we suppose that - somehow - Terriblefugup do get the technology to get either of their monstrosity designs airborne in numbers, they will actually be less of a hazard than other craft such as hot-air balloons. I was a passenger in a light aircraft that had a close miss with a hot-air balloon (literally saved by the experienced pilot's quick reflexes alone). Ever since I have stopped referring to glider pilots as the moped drivers of the air.

          1. Anomalous Cowturd

            @Matt Bryant re: Close miss...

            Yeah, those hot air balloonists really pull some amazing high speed stunts don't they? You never know where they're gonna be in ten seconds time.

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

              Re: @Matt Bryant re: Close miss...

              "Yeah, those hot air balloonists really pull some amazing high speed stunts don't they?...." Dear moron, you may want to consider that hillsides and mountains don't pull "amazing high speed stunts" but aircraft regularly collide with them. Balloons are completely dependent on the prevailing wind, so if there is high wind at the level they are at they can reach a good enough speed, but even hovering they can be a hazard to aircraft if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. In our case, we were jointing the circuit to land at an airfield as bad weather was coming in and the cloudbase was already down to 1000ft, and trying to keep out of the way of some trainees doing circuits, when a lost balloon blew across the airfield. We missed him by feet - if we had hit him we would all of been killed. He should never have been up in that weather.

              "...... You never know where they're gonna be in ten seconds time." In theory, balloonists are only supposed to launch into clear skies when favourable winds are forecast. In practice, given the changeable nature of UK weather and the low number of really good days, it is common to see balloonists up in questionable weather and even amongst clouds, very stupid given their low radar signature. In the crowded UK airspace that's simply too stupid for words. But collisions even occur in clear weather, between slow paragliders and balloons(

    4. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Trouble is ...

      ".....I have proper aircraft....." One designed for safely landing on short strips, whereas the latest whimsy from Terriblefugup looks like it will have such a tiny wing surface area as to make low-speed approach turns instant stalls, followed by a quick spin into the ground! It looks like it will have the wing loading of a Lockheed Starfighter, which means either they will have to make the wings much longer or transition to assisted lift from the rotors at very high speeds, say 200mph, which I'm not even sure they power plant could deliver. All in all, even disregarding the massive gap between the reality of electric/battery power and their design requirements, as a flying machine it looks a complete death trap. IMHO, anyone still investing in these clowns needs their heads examined, and anyone actually willing to fly the eventual product probably won't live long enough to get their head examined!

      1. Pedigree-Pete

        Re: Trouble is ...

        Don't concern yourself too much Matt. Their heads WILL get examined but it'll be by a coroner.

      2. danR2

        Center of gravity...

        ...and the center of lift. The animation for this thing just doesn't add up.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trouble is ...

        "IMHO, anyone still investing in these clowns needs their heads examined, and anyone actually willing to fly the eventual product probably won't live long enough to get their head examined!"

        You ignore the idea that given rich ego-maniac idiots a deathtrap might be a good idea. Those crappy Robinson heliocopters looked like they'd fit the bill, but sadly all we got were a lot of roll over and touchdown writeoffs that left the rich berks to limp away.

        I say bring it on, and encourage the gormless rich to try it out.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: AC Re: Trouble is ...

          ".....Those crappy Robinson heliocopters....." Sorry, I can't agree with that. I've been for several rides in R22s and an R44 without any hitches, roll-overs or other disasters, and they seemd quite neat little 'copters. I hear the original models had a problem with delamination of subcontracted mainblades but that has been fixed.

  2. jerry 4

    The transition was a nightmare, their new terror will never be fielded

    How could you like the Transition?

    Totally butt ugly, and worse, it was a 200K "road car" that you would be scared to drive on the road due to fears from potholes or rocks, or scared to park in a grocery store parking lot due to fears of fender benders.

    And complex way beyond what is needed or safe.

    And that continues on with the TF-X with tilt rotors that tilt and collapse and yield to an even different engine in flight.

    Are these really MIT engineers?

    1. Simon Harris

      "tilt rotors that tilt and collapse"

      Looks like the rotor tips move from about waist height to head height as they spin up and down...

      Better not be standing too close to that thing when it takes off... or land it in a crowded space!

      <-- it was the only icon I could see with sharp blades on it!

      1. Wize

        Re: "tilt rotors that tilt and collapse"

        What about maintenance routines?

        Helicopters flying to the oilrigs in the North Sea have regular maintenance checks, to the point of having their engine & gearbox disassembled and put back together. And those suckers still occasionally fall out the sky.

        I've seen many a car held together with string and gaffer tape. What are these car-planes going to end up like?

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: "tilt rotors that tilt and collapse"

        You have to ask why did they go to the extra complexity of folding rotors when they could simple feather them. true, a feathered rotor would still be quite draggy, but it would be simpler, use existing tech, and not require the additional weight and juice of the motors and hinges for unfolding into the airstream prior to landing. All in all I'd have to say this is even more of a fantasy design than the Transition.

  3. graeme leggett Silver badge


    The impression I get from reading the online archive of Flight (Flight International) is that the 20s and 30s and then the 50s and 60s were periods when everyman and his dog was turning out designs. Light planes that could take off in little space on small engines, designs for home builders, inventive (though probably delicate) creatures of spar and tube and fabric. Several VSTOL ideas, many of which were heard of no more.

    I think most of the designers probably understood there was some element of walking before they could run. Its good to be thinking of the next design, but not to put too much effort in before the first is at least mostly finished. Is this some form of pyramid scheme, the punters investments on the first model being used to fund the development of the next, or marketing to build up the company image?

    Talk up bold ideas for the next design but get it running on fossil fuel first before transitioning to a something involving electrical power. In the past new aircraft designs got developed in parallel with engines they would hope to power them ( RR Vulture and Avro Manchester, not the best example I know) but those were at least iterations on existing ideas.

    PS - sorry bit rambley, cup of tea not yet done its job

    PPS -TFX always makes me think of the General Dynamics F-111.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    An intriguing road map

    I'll note they talk about 3 landings where the vehicles is going from forward flight to sitting on the ground. IOW once the rotors are up to speed it could be more a case of them autorotating and acting as spinning parachutes.

    The take off pulse is nothing like a Tesla's cruise load. It's nearest equivalent would be more like that of a fully loaded Tesla at a stop light drag race when the driver floors it. That profile suggests completely different choices for the power electronics and the batteries. I'll note the Russians were claiming a super capacitor powered bus running in 1993 with the necessary capacity. A lot depends on how long that takeoff transition lasts. A 1 sec takeoff with a 5 sec charge time would probably snap necks. 1 minute takeoff would probably need the whole vehicle to be a battery. It's another vague CGI detail.

    I like Lewis's plan to build out from the current model. I'm not quite ready to believe this is scam but if the want to be taken seriously they need to focus on putting something in the hands of their paying customers. Sometimes SF is a very bad guide to what to expect for V0.9 tech. As they are learning just making a car that can fly (never mind hover) is (in the words of Elon Musk) "Super damm tough."

  5. LarsG


    It's been tried so many times and it has failed so many times.

    The biggest problem is that it is such a niche and expensive product not enough people will want to buy it to make it profitable.

    A car can be efficient, an aircraft can be efficient but a car/aircraft is a compromise. Another dead end.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Pie in the sky.

  7. Charles Manning

    I smell horse feathers

    "A megawatt of power lifts you". That's 1,341 horsepower. Golly!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I smell horse feathers

      Personally, I think I'd have a lot more fun with 1,300hp confined to the ground...

  8. Locky

    Yes yes yes, but

    Where is my hover-board?

    Come on, chop chop

    1. Silverburn

      Re: Yes yes yes, but

      ...and my holographic-without-back-glass-and-yet-still-haptic computer interface that holywood keeps promising me?

  9. Aldous

    Landing horizontally

    Would that not be a bit of a bugger given this thing is supposed to be self landing/flying. So it can't land in the car park you wanted so it needs to make a bee line for a normal airstrip, which will likely be a managed strip near an urban area. How is it going to get into the traffic patterns etc without causing utter chaos?

    A normal Helo experiencing problems has a fully trained pilot who can radio in, get clearance etc. How is this going to work for one of these (assuming it ever gets off the ground which i doubt). Even if the flight computer can notify the airstrip surely that means the ATC's will need to be upgraded with systems to take the data?

  10. Gordon Pryra

    Flying car, whatever

    Yeah yeah we want our flying cars aka the Jetsons.

    But more importantly I feel is where the hell are the silver clad space babes come to Earth to breed with us?

    Its 2013 ffs!!! I'm not getting any younger after all!!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Motorists, flying cars, satnav. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Mystic Megabyte

      Re: Eeeek!

      More like Eeeew! after the postman, milkman and paperboy have been decapitated as they arrive at the moment you start your commute to work.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        Re: Eeeek!

        Or: OOOK! as the librarian warns you not to land on the dome of the library.

  12. Rufe0

    Why couldn't we just have a short take off and landing taxi service with just regular fixed wing aircraft? Someone design a simple, cheap plane with fully automated flying capability, build a few airstrips in each city. Bobs your uncle.

  13. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Hole, money, pour

    Nobody wants a flying car except a few rich gullible Americans who are too fat and lazy to get out of their air-conditioned car and hump their carcass the 20 feet to their PPL, Helicopter or business jet. Until somebody invents cheap gravity neutralisation we will just have to get along with normal cars. As for flying the plane/car you will still need a pilots license so not likely to get too many untrained pilots up there. 4D manoeuvres are those where you aim to be at a certain 3D point at a particular time. It's not easy at all. Most car drivers struggle to remember to KEEP LEFT on motorways, let alone keep track of traffic around them in 3 dimensions. Even if they do come up with aircars for the masses, they will HAVE to be computer controlled. No way in hell I would get in one otherwise.

    1. Silverburn

      Re: Hole, money, pour

      4D routes?

      That's funny...because when I program a route into the GPS, I always arrive within a minute of the ETA. And I alway keep left on our UK motorways. It's recommended in my Audi user manual I'm sure, if I ever chose to read it.

      <-- observe before pressing red button.

  14. Not That Andrew

    Hmm, I like the cheek in saying it's "physically possible with today's technology". There are a lot of things that are physically possible with present technology but are punitively expensive, alarmingly fragile and just not worth it he time and effort involved in practice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @not that andrew

      True, but this will not stop the MIC from wasting billions of taxes making them.

      If the US didn't have armed forces, would they actually need them to safeguard oil supplies?

  15. Silverburn

    Pic on page 2...

    ...Now that's an unhappy looking fish.

  16. Steven Raith

    NASA PAV engines

    Gas Turbines, a flat twelve of some description (everyone loves a flat twelve, and anyone who doesn't is a TRAITOR), and, quite specifically given the design of the intake plenum chambers, an LSx Corvette engine.

    I do hope that's what they wanted, rather than it being the only model they could find in Autodesk.

    Steven R

  17. FutureShock999

    Hmmm, most people drive pretty poorly to start with, and are REALLY out of their depth (so to speak) when trying to do something like sail a boat. I have had 40' sailboats slam into my boat while at anchor in broad daylight in open water. Given how many poor sailors there are in the water, I cringe at the thought of people with the same training (or lack thereof) taking to the skies - things get very, very messy when there are no marked roadways or lines, and you have to rely upon personal judgement and spacial awareness - many people seem to lack one or the other.

    On another note, will these things have Breathalyzer interlocks to prevent drunken flying? I can't see a patrolman stopping a pilot in mid-air, and given that you can land a Transition nearly anywhere they will be hard to audit. But how long will it be before the first drunken Transition pilot slams into a housing development, or a skyscraper even?

  18. Bob 18

    Better batteries

    In making claims of the vertical take-off vehicle, they're probably assuming better batteries in the next 8-10 years, with a significantly higher capacity per kg.

    Don't worry, the great unwashed will never buy these puppies and invade "your" airspace en masse. Beyond the issue of plunking down $200K to buy one, most of us probably won't be able to afford the gas to run it either.

  19. Craigie


    The only way anything like this will ever work will be if they manage to invent a low-power anti-gravity technology. Until then, it will be too expensive, too heavy, too powerful and too much can go wrong for it to be mass-market.

  20. alex d 1


    Autogyros is where cheap, mass-market aviation is heading. Besides being inherently safe and easy to fly, they can do VSTOL or even VTOL. The fact that they don't have wings makes it much easier to take them on the road. The rotor on the Artur Trendak Zen (formerly Celier Xenon) assembles/disassembles in 20 minutes. Of course, would be nice if it just folded, which isn't far fetched.

    Of course, the Zen can't directly drive its tiny wheels for moving on the highway, but if making a roadable aircaft or flying car, I'd surely go this route.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Autogyros?

      I give you: The PAL-V

  21. LJK

    Hybrid vs bigger engine

    I still have no idea why battery - motor - generator / IC engine hybrid vehicles are seriously proposed, except to get the hybrid buzzword into investment proposals.

    A bigger generator, high power electronic control circuitry, motors, heavy duty wiring, battery weight, all add up to a huge weight addition in comparison to adding a couple of extra cylinders to an IC engine, or a slightly larger gas turbine.

    Gas turbines are not fuel efficient, in fact they are the opposite, but they weigh so little compared to their power output, that they are popular on aircraft.

    1. optic

      Re: Hybrid vs bigger engine

      You do realise that many (most?) diesel rail locomotives are diesel electrics, ie. Big diesel generator and electric motors.

      Its a very efficient design as you can design a motor to operate at a specific output very efficiently. For cars store the excess power (in a few smaller batteries) while cruising for when lots of power is needed and charge them at other times. Current hybrids are a joke though, your right there, putting an electric motor on the other side of a drive train, talk about needless losses!

      1. aqua225

        Re: Hybrid vs bigger engine

        Hate to burst your bubble, but while locomotive serial electric transmissions are quite efficient for serial electric transmissions, they are not more efficient than a manual gearbox, a double clutched computer shifted non-slushbox auto, and possibly even late model slushboxes.

        Locomotive electric transmissions are about 85% efficient from the shaft of the diesel to the wheels (this excludes a maximum of about 50% efficiency in current medium speed diesels). A manual gearbox is 96 to 99% efficient. The only reason locomotives use the serial electric transmission design is that you can handle much larger amounts of power than a gearbox can reliably for the size constraints of a locomotive. Imagine trying to pop the clutch on not just one 4500HP engine, but 3 of them, maintain wheel slip below 10%, and start a 150 car coal train. That is un-possible :)

        However, take a 4500HP mechanical input, convert it to 3-phase AC, rectify it, feed that through a computer controlled 3-phase inverter, or PWM modulator for DC locos, and a computer can quite easily do the hard parts for you, including making sure the government enviro-nannies are happy about the soot output of the diesel turning the alternator.

        Even manually controlling such a getup is possible.

      2. Charles Manning

        Re; Diesel electrics

        You do realise that many (most?) rail locomotives don't have to fly?

        Diesel electrics are bloody heavy. They are essentially a replacement for a mechanical clutch/gearbox and are not a power source of themselves.

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The cycle on doubling capacity for battery technology has been 35 years.

    So on an 8-10 year development cycle you should get some meaningful improvement.

    If you don't run out of money in the meantime.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. FozzyBear

    Seriously, considering the drive in today, if they hand out licences for flying cars the way they do for an ordinary driving licence in NSW, I can foresee Darwin rubbing his hands in anticipation of the mass carnage.

  25. Martin Budden Silver badge

    No need for batteries. Then TF-X will work.

    Nice analysis by Lewis of why the TF-X (probably) won't work if batteries are used to provide the take-off grunt: the batteries are very heavy.

    Which begs the question: why are batteries needed when there is already another power source on board? The internal combustion engine (ICE) can be used to provide the juice for the take-off rotors. The only reason why the ICE is not driving the rotors directly is because the mechanical linkages would be too complex, so it makes sense for the ICE to run a generator and have 'leccy motors for the rotors (this is a similar arrangement to diesel-electric trains, as someone already pointed out). No heavy batteries mean the numbers now add up and the concept is feasible (noise and downwash notwithstanding).

    p.s. I want a flying car, and I want it now!

  26. Terry Cloth

    Robotic flying cars considered unlikely

    ``Highly reliable robotic takeoff, landing, cruise flight and traffic control certainly isn't a dream - the problems are actually easier than robotic ground cars, and they have pretty much been solved already.''

    Sure, for objects separated by miles horizontally and thousands of feet vertically.

    But that's not the situation for a genuine flying car. Take the road populace of New York City, elevate it all to a variety of altitudes, and watch your autopilots have nervous breakdowns. A population of flying cars in numbers comparable to what we have on the ground is such a difference in degree as to become a difference in kind. Ask any programmer scaling up a program from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of instances.

  27. iLurker

    Forget about the vertical take-off/landing nonsense - it is not necessary as well as technologically impractical and hideously expensive.

    There are small personal flying machines that can take off and land in as little as 6 metres - as small as your average lounge room, have a useful ceiling for commuters and good rate of climb: powered paragliders. And there are even electric-powered paragliders, which are reasonably quiet.

    As a paraglider pilot, it is possible to fly these low-speed machines in reasonably tight gaggles and formations which suggest some sort of airborne analogy of "thoroughfares" and "traffic rules" might work. Even better, these things glide reasonably well and are even able to survive (continue flying) and land safely in very small spaces with some pretty serious malfunctions in the "airframe (canopy). Their low flying speed implies a collision with the ground is usually survivable and the pilot is even equipped with a reserve parachute, for emergencies - more than can be said for most light aircraft.

    That the use of powered ultra-lights, hang-gliders and paragliders is forbidden over large urban areas should give you landlubbers a clue: large numbers of flying machines over urban areas is a really, really bad idea.

  28. Jim 59

    Flying car

    The trouble is that flying and driving are just too different. Any car capable of flying is likely to both an awful car and a terrible aircraft.

    Perhaps the best "flying car" would be a light aircraft somehow capable of carrying a small car. ie. Thunderbird 2

  29. HeyJude

    Any idiot can design a light aircraft with folding wings. I'm not even remotely interested until someone invents a proper flying car with anti-grav and fuelled by stale beer and banana skins.

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