My mind is racing…

Well, made it home from Oshkosh lastnight.  That was one heck of a trip!

However, a thought keeps bouncing back and fourth in my mind… A Flying Car.  Now, don’t think I’m crazy until you hear me out.  Think about this.  The FAA killed the flying car concept in the early 70s when Mort Taylor built his flying cars… the AirCar 1 and AirCar 3… AirCar 2 wasn’t really a flying car – but a simple modification to the AirCar 1 that added 2 more seats, but it wasn’t a car.  Anyway, the FAA required him to certify his car as a car, including crash worthiness, emmisions and fuel economy.  Well, a heavy car doesn’t make a good light plane, so that venture failed.  In addition to that, FAA Certification of anything flying grew exponentially more expensive becuase of lawsuits, etc.  So, even though Mort’s flying cars actually flew – and still do this day, the idea died because of the buracuracy.

Now, we move to 2005.  Some recient analysis done by NASA and the FAA suggests that a 2 place plane would take off (no pun indended) in the market place if it was priced about what a good high end car goes for… let’s say $50,000.  And, on top of that, the FAA has introduced a new category of plane, called the “Light Sport Plane,” which, cool enough, is limited to two seats.  There are other restrictions to it, but the cool thing is that these planes, though certified, aren’t certified to the same standards as “Standard” aircraft like my Cessnas.  What does this mean, well, in a nutshell, these planes are inexpensive… right in that magic spot… from $50,000 to $100,000. 

So, I got to thinking about it some more… and I thought about my job… travelling around the country on commercial aircraft (or my own if I can) and then renting a car at the other end… staying for a night or two and returning home.  A flying car would be perfect for me.  But alas, the FAA still has that requirement that it must meet Federal Crash Worthiness and all that other car stuff that makes it a horrible plane.

Then it hit me… what if it wasn’t a flying car after all.  Motorcycles don’t have that same requirement… and motorcycles can have 3 wheels.  That’s it… if it was a “Flying Motorcycle” that kind of looked like a flying car (with only 3 wheels, which turns out works really well on a plane) then it just might work.  Then there is this other problem… what do you do with the prop and wings?  Oshkosh gave me the answer.  Folding prop… like this glider has:  The wings will be easy… just detach the wings and tail (as a unit) from the car.  That “Flight Module” stays at the airport until you return.  It gets tied down just like a regular aircraft.  The prop stays with the engine (where it should) and get’s neatly tucked away while you are driving.  It’s disconnected from the engine via a clutch whenever the “drive” transmission is active… in other words, you are driving the car.

Now, other innovations… Engine… use a standard car engine… they’re much easier and cheaper to maintain, and NASA has reciently done a study that shows that they are more reliable than standard aircraft engines… even without the dual ignition systems, etc.  Instruments, as Darth Vader said… “Leave that to me.”  I’m a software guy and I’ve already done instruments for cars as well as planes… it’ll just take a little more code to figure out which display to show during which phase (ground or flight.)

The last thing to consider is how to do it… how do you fly it?  Well, control systems are my speciality.  That’s where the real innovation will come.  Stay tuned.  Time to start planning. 🙂



Comments (10)

  1. JasonF says:

    Nice thinking, Bill. Some thoughts that crossed my mind (brainstorming type things):

    1. Fuel storage: The [rigid] wings would likely need to be used for fuel storage while in flight mode (for capacity and balance reasons), so what issues are there with detaching the wings if they still contain fuel? How portable would a wing unit full of fuel be if someone needs to move it out of the way for any reason while you are absent?

    2. Flightworthiness: I’m not sure if I would necessarily want to have anything mechanical on the "motorcycle" that would be required for flightworthiness (like the stow-away prop, etc). Any type of fender-bender, etc, while on the road would then be equivilent to a wing strike or other type of aircraft damage, and could unnecessarily leave you stranded awaiting expensive repairs.

    3. Power: The entire unit in flight mode will require much more power (thrust) to fly than the motorcycle alone would require to motor around. Perhaps the detachable flight module should contain its own powerplant, and the motorcycle itself can then use a smaller engine which is not required for flight. This allows for multiple fuels to be used also (aircraft-quality for flight, cheap 87 octane for motoring around).

    4. Modular design: The "motorcycle" part essentially represents the fuselage/cockpit of the aircraft, which is mated to the flight module in order to create the complete aircraft.

    The "motorcycle" would likely contain fairings that would totally enclose the pilot with the purpose being to protect from the elements, not to provide impact protection.

    The flight module would probably work best with an overhead wing design, like a Cessna. The onboard powerplant (mentioned above) would be located aft of the wing, with a rear-facing prop. This provides for a totally self-contained unit sans the cockpit. There still might be an opportunity for a folding/removable prop, if only to protect it while parked on the ramp.

    Fuel being stored in the wing tanks will result in a relatively small moment. The moment from the rear engine would have to balance out with the moment from the "motorcycle" and pilot. Maybe luggage/additional fuel/ballast weight can be located aft of the wing and forward of the engine.

    5. Landing Gear: To support moving the flight module while disconnected, I’m thinking that the rear 2 wheels of the tricycle landing gear should actually be part of the flight module itself (they can also be located aft of the C/G). The front wheel of the "motorcycle" can be the front wheel of the landing gear, and this would also provide a mechanism for steering while taxiing. The rear two wheels of the "motorcycle" itself are somehow hidden or otherwise not in contact with the ground.

    A small wheel can be located on the tail to facilitate moving the disconnected flight module around the ramp.

    It’s late, and I’m now babbling… This stuff might not make sense to me in the morning… Oh well!

  2. wsteele says:

    Ok, Jason… I’ve thought about everything you said. Here’s what I think…

    1. Fuel. In order to make this easy, I think I’ll have the fuel in the main fuselage, because having disconnects for the fuel lines is more dangerous and really not needed… reason, see engine answer below.

    2. Flightworthiness. The entire thing will have to be "flightworthly" because the entire thing will fly. 😉 Anyway, I see what you say about the prop, but remember, this is a series of compromises anyway, I think the prop is the way to go… even if it is risky. If it is damaged on the ground, you can still drive the car portion.

    3. Power. I’m thinking about a 100hp 4 cylinder engine. That would be sufficient to fly and motor around on the ground. I like the Chevrolet Corvair engine for this application, it’s realiable and inexpensive. I’m currently modeling this airplane in XPlane… we’ll see if it’s strong enough to fly. (I’m looking for 120-140kts.)

    4. Modular Design. You should see the design drawings that I’ve come up with. It’s modular all right… and looks very cool. As soon as I can figure out how to scan them in without a scanner, I’ll post them. 🙂

    5. Landing Gear. I’m only planning on 3 wheels. One in front and two in the rear. Now, once you see the design, you’ll understand how it’ll work. The "flight module" actually has small stands built in that allow the "ground module" to drive away from under it. That way, it’s a simple design, with very few parts.

    One thing to think about here is the design must be easy and inexpensive to manufacture. Some of the ideas that I’m incorporating are the way that some early planes had "ribbed" wing surfaces… this allows the wing to be strong, yet be built with just a few parts. (Very few internal ribs are required… I can build a nice stiff wing with just 3 or 4 ribs… which makes it very easy to build.) Also, the engine for the entire thing must be common with both airplanes and cars… the Corvair engine is perfect for that, it’s been in cars since the early 60s and has been flying just as long, with no major modifcations. (It has some minor changes to make it more airworthly, but there is nothing changed that makes it ungroundworthly.)

    Anyway… more to come… keep the ideas coming.


  3. JasonF says:

    "4. Modular Design. You should see the design drawings that I’ve come up with. It’s modular all right… and looks very cool. As soon as I can figure out how to scan them in without a scanner, I’ll post them. 🙂 "

    Take a suggestion from Rory Blyth ( and photograph them with your Kodak Funtime Digital Camera. 😛