In the final part of our five-part interview with serial inventor and flying car advocate Dezso Molnar, he introduces his newest venture: a race series. With more than 100 flying cars on the road and in the air worldwide, Molnar believes the fastest way to take this technology to the next level is to get a community of inventors and aviators together and put their vehicles to the test in a competition on the West Coast of the United States. There'll be categories for radio controlled, electric and unlimited flying cars, so there's room for the full spectrum of innovators.
This week, Molnar has unveiled flyingcarracing.com, a site that brings together the 22 teams that have been invited to participate in the inaugural race in 2017. What follows is Dezso's own words, describing his vision for the event.
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On who should get into flying car racing
Racing budgets are massive. People respect racing, and the people that go there – birds of a feather meet at these races. The kinds of people you want to spend your time with if you're a developer. There's value in racing in that it creates a community around these machines and objectives.
The success of Dean Kamen's FIRST project to me is inspiring, in that it has given a lot of kids at a high school level the ability to take their talents for machinery and their fascination, and create a competitive group that lets them work together, meet people from other schools and other nations, and go to these robotics competitions. Dean's best quote is "It's the only sport where every player can turn pro." I'd like to create a similar environment for people out of high school, at the college level or young pros, who are done with school but still want to have that community. There's a FIRST, but currently there's no second.
Flying car racing's for them, because bolting together an aircraft with an electric motor is no big challenge for anybody who has built a FIRST robot with all its control systems. If you compare the Street Wing to Van's aircraft, the Van's planes use gas engines and a thousand more parts than an electric plane, so electrics are much easier to build. Van's has almost 9,000 aluminium planes flying – there's a very robust kit culture for people that want to build their own aircraft parts, and there's a group called the Experimental Aircraft Association which is a strong advocate for them.
What does a flying car race look like?
It's a 200-mile (322-km) course through the desert, the classic Route 66 on the ground, and there's Class G airspace and about 15 airports in between. So if somebody has an ultralight aircraft, and it's a flying car, they will be able to fly their aircraft over completely unpopulated areas and compete between those two spots.
With some of the vehicles that exist today, the owners are not licensed pilots so they can only operate under part 103 or the ultralight class, and fly under ultralight conditions. Some of the vehicles haven't passed a smog check, I think the AeroMobil is one of them, so they're not actually street legal.
Those vehicles will be able to do some drive activities on the lake beds. There's another dry lake bed on the receiving side near Boulder City where we'll be able to drive. At El Mirage, we can drive at unlimited speeds. So if somebody has a flying car that goes 300 mph on the ground, that's not a problem, we'll be able to do that at El Mirage. It's federally allocated for driving at those speeds if you want. Once on the street, we drive the speed limit.
We'll try to help out these guys based on the capabilities of their aircraft. What we'll probably do is, let's say we drive 50 miles and then we take off from an airport and fly for 20 miles, and then we drive for another 30 and then we fly to the final airport, or whatever.
So what we'll do is split up the trip, there's a lot of airports in between, Jean is one, Banning is another that's en route. So we'll see who wants to race and what their capabilities are, and set up a course that allows them to compete, and drive the development so their vehicles get better at a safe environment.
We don't want to put pilots and machines at risk, we want to promote them.
The transition from fly to drive will be exactly the same as when a Formula One race car needs tires, exactly the same as when an Indy race car needs gas. There's a mechanical activity called the pit stop. And the pit stops are a make or break situation for the race. So the pit stops get faster and faster. I would like to see the same things happen for flying cars so their pit stops get quicker and quicker.
The objective is not to require every mechanical event automated out of the box and have another failure mode where you try to do everything at once for everybody. The idea is to embrace the idea of a pit stop, and make that part of the show. Everyone likes to see the pits. If you go to an F1 race, where do people want to be? They wanna be in the pits. That's where the excitement is.
Unmanned, Electric and Unlimited categories
The other thing that's really important, I'm setting it up with three categories of aircraft. The first one is unmanned, so people that have radio controlled flying cars can compete. Some exist today for purchase. I see quadcopters as gateway drugs for people who really just want an F16. There's already an enormous amount of drone racing happening, so I want to provide them with a venue. They will design new drones that fly and drive, and will get to race and see these other manned aircraft. So that's the unmanned "Radio Controlled" division.
"Electric" division requires an electric final drive. And the objective is to promote lightweight vehicles that don't require any fossil fuel, so you'll be able to drive and fly around for the rest of your life without buying gas.
That division will likely have a weight restriction of 150 kg (331 lb). I'm expecting all one-seat machines and many of them purpose built.
The third and final is the "Unlimited" category, and for that we embrace all comers. Somebody can show up with a Pitcairn AC35, Larry Page could bring the Zee Aero, Terrafugia can race their Transition, Joe Caravella can bring his machine, and I will race Gyrocycles. Everybody will be able to bring any machine they have that works, and historically there's a lot of them. I'd like to see some vehicles in museums sparked back to life or completed! An installed base of vehicles competing on a fixed course is what created NASCAR.
On the viability of a flying car race
So that's it. Flying car racing has three divisions. Radio Controlled, Electric, and Unlimited. There's 100 good aircraft already existing, which is a lot more than the X-Prize, which only saw one competitor fly. They claimed there were 27 teams, but I haven't seen 26 of those teams fly anyone to space since the X-Prize was announced by the eventual winner 20 years ago. With Rocket Racing League, we had three airplanes, but they never actually raced against each other because we never selected a reliable engine.
Flying car racing is a thousand times more viable than those projects, or the land speed racing teams which come around every 15 or 20 years when somebody wants to do a very expensive, very dangerous thing. I see flying car racing as an extremely high probability spectacle with far-reaching social benefit. Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute for years has suggested that the key way to make cars more efficient is to reduce their weight. I agree with that, and what has happened in the last 50 years?? The same Ford Mustang gets released every year!!
The only way to make cars lighter is to either require the driver to pedal them, or to make them fly. You will not be able to prescribe light cars to people, you must make them desirable. It's the only way to evolve ourselves from 2 percent efficient vehicles that need roads expanded, destroy the air, and crush puppy dogs every day.
I've been quiet about it, but I've spoken to a few owners and they're very responsive. I already have a couple vehicles lined up. It's hard for them to continue doing their development without a fair amount of support. I think they feel racing will help with that, and it could do them a big benefit. I'm really about giving them credit for the work they've already done and shining a spotlight of appreciation. These are gutsy inventors that have made machines that already work.
It's a way to embrace their efforts, rather than obsess about their lack of market saturation.
A big thanks to Dezso for his time and assistance on this series. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to hang out with him, meet his remarkable friends and check out some of his projects and workspaces first hand. For more information on the race series, check out the Flying Car Racing website.
Other articles in this series:
- Part 1: On the road with a serial inventor and flying car advocate
- Part 2: A new way of thinking about flying cars
- Part 3: My favourite (and least favourite) existing flying cars
- Part 4: My two current flying car projects