July 14, 2008 The race is well and truly on to develop a functional flying car, and innovators around the world are finding several different ways to accommodate the needs of a road-registerable flying vehicle. The Moller Skycar and Cell Craft G440 use complicated quad-turbine tilting jet engines to achieve VTOL and flight capability. The Terrafugia Transition and Skyblazer roadable aircraft have decided to go for a folding-wing convertible aeroplane design, and Larry Neal's Super Sky Cycle is a simple and cheap modification that turns a standard, safe gyroplane into a road-going trike. And now there's the Parajet Skycar, a Yamaha R1-engined, biodiesel-powered all-terrain dune buggy that's capable of extremely safe flight as a powered paraglider. The Skycar Expedition team plan to take the eye-catching vehicle from London to Timbouctou in 2009, using a combination of flight and driving to battle the tough Saharan terrain. There's a commuter model in the pipeline - and you won't need a pilot's license to fly it.
One of the standouts for us at the 2008 Goodwood Speed Festival was to briefly meet the team behind the Parajet Skycar Expedition that's making a 3,000 mile journey from London to Timbouctou in what the group is claiming is the world's first carbon-neutral flying car.
A cross between a dune buggy and a paraglider, the Skycar prototype is a steel-framed all-terrain vehicle running on a biodiesel-modified Yamaha R1 1000cc motorcycle engine making around 140 peak horsepower. The motor runs through a Continuously Variable Transmission either to power the rear wheels or to turn a large rear-facing propeller via a belt drive.
The R1 engine will make the Skycar a performance demon on land, with a 0-60mph time around 4.5 seconds and plenty of sideways action guaranteed. With independent suspension for each wheel, the team expects it to have a similar level of all-terrain ability as an off-road motorcycle, a claim which will be thoroughly tested in the Dakar-like Sahara desert section of the expedition.
Converting from fly-mode to drive-mode or vice versa should be a three-minute process according to the team, and the Skycar should be able to take off within about 200 metres. Flight is achieved using an asymmetrical parachute 'wing' that provides lift as the propeller pushes the craft forward. Steering is achieved by pulling handles that slightly deform the parachute wing, much like steering a normal parachute. The Skycar will need to reach about 35mph to achieve takeoff, after which it should have a top airspeed around 70mph and a range of just over 180 miles, depending on weather conditions.
Paragliding is one of the easiest and safest forms of flight, requiring no license or testing in most countries except where passenger or tandem flight is involved. Paragliding is regarded as being statistically safer than motorcycle riding, as in the event of engine failure the vehicle simply floats softly to the ground on its parachute, and ballistic reserve chutes are commonly fitted to many paragliders in case of parachute failure.
While the prototype will be steel-framed, the production models of the Skycar are expected to have aluminium frames to save on weight. Because it's such a simple system, the Parajet Skycar should end up being one of the least expensive flying car options out there - for example, the expedition prototype is expected to cost only UK£35,000. And while a road-registerable production commuter model would obviously require extra development, it's unlikely to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars many of the other manufacturers are aiming at.
The Skycar's first flight tests are about 6 weeks away according to designer Giles Cordoza, who famously designed a paraglider that flew to a world-record altitude of 29,494ft in 2007. The expedition proper is set to launch in March 2009, pending corporate or individual sponsorship of around UK£200,000 to get the initiative off the ground. We'll be watching closely. Good luck guys!