We often focus on clear and very visible trends like self-driving cars and drones, forgetting there is another even more interesting trend trying to get off the ground. That is technology focused on allowing us to fly to work. Now there are three basic versions of this class of personal aircraft. There are car and planes set-up where you drive to an airport to take off, there is also personal aircrafts which can land on your driveway and then there are jetpacks - some of which aren’t really jets.
This last option has made news of late because it looks like, in a few months, you’ll be able to buy the first working jetpack for around $250K but I doubt you’ll want to. Let me explain.
We’ve actually had Air-Cars come and go since the 1940s costing $25K (25 is a really popular number when it comes to flying cars.) The recurring problem is the result tends to suck at being either a car or an airplane and the last serious effort where they tied a Pinto to a Cessna Skymaster came apart at altitude killing the firm’s executive staff. Funny thing is, well other than using a Pinto, was that this at least was a viable car - though I still struggle with the idea of anyone buying a pinto for the package price of $250K back in the 1970s.
With Uber and a private plane, you likely can get a better experience for less than one of these bad mixes would provide. The best I’ve seen is the Pal-V One. It is a gyrocopter configuration and coupled with an interesting motorcycle like configuration, appears to be both fun and relatively safe to fly and drive. The only assembly appears to be taking the cover off and deploying the overhead blades, everything else is automatic and it appears to fit in a garage. Check out the video here.
The top speed is a little over 100 MPH on the road and 180 MPH in the air with a range of 750 miles on the road around 220 miles in the air and 28 mpg on the road with 0-60 in less than 10 seconds. It will also carry two including the pilot. But the price is nearly $400K (which ironically is $250K in 1970 dollars taking into account inflation).
You’ll still need a pilot’s license and while you’ll save on storing fees (you can park in your garage) generally buying a better plane will be far cheaper and you likely can get a decent car with the money you saved.
Flying Cars Version II
Now the goal was to actually have a car that you could fly to work. Not fly to an airport, assemble, and then fly to another airport, dissemble and drive to work. For a lot of us the airport is probably about the same distance as our office but, at least, this suggested you could live in a far more affordable area and still commute.
But while we have had a lot of car plane hybrids that have actually been viable (if you are somewhat flexible with that word) we have yet to see a true no-compromise flying car come to market. The closest has been in the works for decades from a company in California called Moller International. What makes this concept interesting is Paul Moller figured out early on that they would need some kind of self-flying capability to both eliminate the need for a pilot’s license and to possibly get FAA approval to land in neighborhoods.
Because this thing only flies and the focus was an affordable VTOL plane, the end result is actually rather cool looking and because it needs extra safety - its initial configuration has 4 engines (a ton of redundancy).
The expected performance of the Skycar 400 gives it a 300 MPH top speed, about 6 hours of flying time (so a range in excess of 1,000 miles), and a 720lb payload including pilot (still pretty decent unless you are really heavy).
You’d get in, enter your destination like you would a GPS address and the Skycar would do the rest. Price is in the range of a Bugatti or around $1M (drops to $500K in volume) but it is easier to park (you can park it on a roof), it goes faster, and you can actually drive it up to full speed without getting a ticket. Oh, and you don’t need roads opening up a lot of places to build your dream home that wouldn’t make sense for a car.
It is currently undergoing flight testing. They are also just starting work on the far more affordable Skycar 200 which should price closer to that magic $250K number in volume. But, I expect it is years away.
The promise of the Rocket Belt was always the ability to fly like a bird, or superman, actually. This was showcased in the 1991 Disney movie Rocketeer. Or if you are a tad older Rocketman. What we got was the Bell Aerospace Rocket Belt. It flew for a whopping 21 seconds and wasn’t particularly fast. But it was light enough to walk around with and they did kind of look like rocket belts.
Currently there is a Jet Pack you can build but you basically jump out of an airplane and then you do fly pretty much like the folks on the movies and TV shows. This video showcases a flyby of an airliner in Dubai. Have to admit this would be fun but the skill level is off the charts - plus there is the problem of having to hitch a ride on something to get up to flying altitude. You land with a parachute so, all in all, while undoubtedly fun and exciting but you won’t be taking this to work.
Currently there are a couple of viable companies working this project perhaps the most interesting is Jetpack Aviation. Their Jetpack will currently fly up to 10,000 ft., can reach a speed of 100mph, and can fly for 10 minutes. OK this last one kind of gives me pause but you could take off from your home and fly say 15 miles to work and home again if you could refuel at work. So a ton better than the Bell product and more practical than jumping out of an airplane with an estimated cost of around $100K.
The final product is the Martin Jetpack about the same cost but with twice the top speed and three times the range. Only drawback - and it is a big one - it will carry weight close to 500 lbs. You aren’t carrying this puppy on your back and it is pretty big, so finding a safe place to park it would be an issue. You’d think they’d at least put wheels on the darned thing so you could move it once it had landed.
Wrapping Up: We Are Soooo Close
It strikes me that if a number of these folks got together collectively they likely could have something viable by the end of the decade. Still several of these vehicles are very closely suggesting by mid-next decade some of us may be flying to work. I should point out that one of the Google (News - Alert) executives lives near me and he does fly to work every day in a regular plane. Since one of Google’s campuses is at an airport he doesn’t really have to worry about parking.
Maybe by this time next decade we can all have a similar opportunity. Oh, and I should point out that there is a lot of the heavy lifting, which is getting through the FAA, being done by the drone delivery folks so we should be able to slipstream that effort to deliver people. One can only hope…