By Theodore Opara
Sometimes ago,when we did a story on this page about Mercedes Benz SL AMG, we predicted that one day, cars would fly. And its seems our prediction has come true in no time. The flying car has arrived. A Dutch company built a flying car and is simply called PAL-V. This is the story of the flying car by TopGear Magazine.
Flying cars are one of those things the future has forever promised us yet never delivered. But things creep up on us from unexpected directions, and here’s one that might just have solved the problem by not trying to be a car at all. Nor, come to that, an aeroplane.
It’s called the PAL-V. On the ground, it’s a Carver leaning trike. In the air, it’s a gyrocopter. It’s Dutch, and, at first glance, it looks like the product of a mind addled by one too many spliffs. But it’s fiercely logical and has the backing of several Dutch universities and government ministries. It’s just done its maiden flight, and its developers insist it means all the regulations for a ground vehicle and an aircraft.
A gyrocopter is potentials the lightest and most compact form of powered flight. A propeller drives it forward – in the PAL-V’s case, a prop behind the cabin. The lift comes not from fixed wings but a set of empowered rotor blades that are spun by the forward motion through the air.
A gyro can’t hover like a helicopter, but it’s vastly simpler both in its construction and in the skills needed to fly it. And both those sorts of simplicity are good for safety. Plus, if the engines fails, a gyro can come to a gentle landing from any height.
In fact, take-off and landing speeds are far lower than for a fixed-wing plane, which also help this machine’s viability as a roadable aircraft. You don’t need an airport. A smooth 200m grass field will do for take-off, and 50 for landing. “That’s just a big garden,” says PAL-V’s boss Robert Dingemanse. “All you need is something to show the wind.” Just 30mph of airspeed will keep it going in level flight.
Sure, it look strange, but then Dingemanse says lots of things – safety, aero, light weight-trumped handsomeness in the priority list.
Dingemanse says there are two huge obstacles that anty fly-drive invention has to overcome. The first is weight. It has to be as light as a Caterham, while carrying the mechanisms both to go and steer on the road, and, separately, to get aloft and remain in control when up there. The other problem is that if an aircraft isn’t to topple over because of the thrust, it needs a high centre of gravity. Which is precisely the opposite of what a car needs if it isn’t to topple over in corners.
PAL-V’s founder, John Bakker, had been trying to invent a flying vehicle since about 2000. “The Carver technology was the breakthrough,” says Dingemanse, and it came in 2005. What makes it perfect for the PAL-V is that it allows a high C of G on a narrow vehicle, because, through corners, the whole lot always stays in balance. And having a small, light cockpit is essential in anything that’s supposed to take to the air.
You sit in a cockpit with normal car control. The single front wheel wears a motorbike tyre, and the wheel and the whole cockpit lean as they do on a bike, so that there’s little latest force at the front axle.