Image of Virus via Pipistrel.si.
NASA has named the winners of the Personal Air Vehicle Challenge to promote “personal aircraft for fast, safe, efficient, affordable, environmentally-friendly, and comfortable on-demand transportation as a future solution to America’s mobility needs.”
In case you thought “personal aircraft” meant jetpacks, as I did, you’d be only slightly disappointed, since we’re actually talking about flying cars.
Says the website of the CAFE Foundation, which allied with NASA to sponsor the Challenge:
Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs) are a new generation of small aircraft that can extend personal air travel to a much larger segment of the American population…. Near all-weather STOL [short take-off and landing] PAVs will be able to transport people to within just a few miles of their doorstep destination at trip speeds three to four times faster than airlines or cars. NASA predicts that up to 45% of all miles traveled in the future may be in PAVs. This will relieve congestion at metropolitan hub airports and the freeways that surround them, reduce the need to build new highways and save much of the 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted in surface gridlock each year.
Then again, the CAFE Foundation website also informs us that “Aircraft are submarines that swim in a sea of air,” so I’m not sure how seriously to take them.
For the Challenge, four teams completed for overall best performance and prizes for noise reduction, handling, efficiency, short takeoff, and top speed. The contest took place Aug. 4-12 at Charles M. Schultz Airport in Sonoma, California. I don’t know if anyone submitted a flying doghouse, but the winner in five out of seven categories is a Pipistrel Virus, a Slovenian-manufactured production airplane that to me pretty much looks like an ultralight, rather than a flying car.
Flying cars, also known as “roadable aircraft,” have had a long and storied development history, with six or seven major designs currently claiming to be in active prototype. Sadly, none of the prototypes look like they’ll have me cruising at 100 over I-80 on a Tuesday rush hour flipping people off any time soon.
The challenges of flying car development aren’t only engineering ones; FAA regulations require anyone flying a light aircraft to have a pilot’s license. Davis, California company Moller International met that challenge in 1999 by promising a fly-by-wire system that didn’t require a pilot’s license; in 2003 Moller was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission by civil fraud (Securities And Exchange Commission v. Moller International, Inc., and Paul S. Moller, Defendants) for making unsubstantiated claims about its Skycar (the company settled for $50,000 and an injunction against future claims).
Other winners in the NASA challenge included a Cessna 172 and an RV-4.
Link to all winners.