Personal VTOL 'Skycar'
Unveiled By CA Engineer
By Jack Smith
Gerry Lovell <>
Many of us will spend months over the course of our lives sitting in traffic jams. But what if you could rise above all that literally?
     A Davis, Calif., engineer with a distaste for traffic has come up with what he thinks will be the commuters dream of the 21st century: a small aircraft he calls the Skycar.
     "[The Skycar is] the personalized vehicle that can take you up from your driveway and transport you where you want to go, when you want, and then land you pretty much exactly where you want," says Dr. Paul Moller, founder of Moller International.
No Runways Needed
The Skycar takes off much like a helicopter, yet flies like a jet. Moller uses a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) system, much like the one used in Britains Harrier fighter aircraft. The engines swivel so that on takeoff, the thrust pushes the aircraft upward. The engines then swivel horizontally to drive the aircraft forward.
     As Moller himself notes, he is not the first inventor to attempt to develop a small personal aircraft. According to Moller International promotional material, "Past efforts by other companies to do this have resulted in exorbitantly expensive aircraft in which a minor component failure during hover often led to catastrophic results."
     But the Skycar has some advantages over past aircraft. Moller has made more than 150 hovering and low-speed flights - the most critical flight mode of any VTOL vehicle. It's been clocked it at 390 mph, and its 960-horsepower engine runs on standard automobile gasoline. It gets 15 or more miles to the gallon. It's somewhat bigger than an average car - 18 feet long and 9 feet wide - but smaller than a two-seat aircraft like a Cessna Skyhawk, which has a 36-foot wingspan.      Early models will cost around $1 million - not exactly inexpensive - but Moller claims that mass production could bring the price down to around $60,000.
Aerial Traffic Jams?
Moller International has also developed an 'aerobot,' an unmanned flying robotic vehicle. The company has sold aerobots to the U.S. Air Force (for airfield damage assessment) and to the California Department of Transportation (for aerial inspection of bridges and overpasses). Moller believes he could have a breakthrough product with the Skycar.      "I was astounded at how extremely well thought-out the whole project actually was," says Henry Lahore, a systems engineer at Boeing. He says the Skycar is "very airworthy."      Airborne commuters wont need extensive training, Moller says, because the Skycar is piloted by computer. To avoid potentially fatal mid-air accidents, the computers would use pre-programmed courses that Moller likens to 'traffic lanes.'      If Mollers vision comes to pass, commuters would no longer be tied to the cities. That half-hour commute might only cover 20 miles on the ground, but in the air, the Skycar could travel 200 miles in the same amount of time.      "At some point in time," Moller says as he gazes skyward, "were going to use this great natural resource that's essentially unused."