The dream has been alive for more than 100 years. Drive to the airport, fly to your destination, then explore the town in the same vehicle you just flew. What could be better than a flying car?
A Dutch company has very nearly perfected their PAL-V, a three-wheeled gyrocopter that they’ve been working on since the design has been finalized. But it’s not a flying car, it’s a flying motorcycle.
The PAL-V website admits as much:
Legislation. For certification, thanks to the 3 wheel concept, the PAL-V vehicle is considered a motorcycle. The rules and regulations for motorcycles are much less stringent than for 4 wheel cars making certification possible. (To drive the PAL-V, you only need a car drivers license.)
The reasons for this are simple. Motorcycle safety rules are much less stringent than car safety rules. Cars must have airbags for the front passengers, seat-belt pretensioners, Anti-Lock brakes, child seat anchor points, and anti-lock brakes. These features—which flying cars must have, make them bloated and not very practical.
An enclosed recumbent motorcycle, on the other hand, is the perfect candidate for the fuselage of an airplane, since it’s already basically shaped like one, and has a small frontal area. Design it as an autogyro–rather than an airplane–and you’ve got a compact, lightweight aircraft that’ll stand a much better chance of making both the FAA and the NHTSA happy.
A rotorcraft is a good choice of aircraft design for a flying motorcycle, since the rotor blades can tuck out of the way when not in use (other class of aircraft are airplane, glider, lighter than air, powered lift, powered parachute, and weight shift control). In an gyrocopter, only the tail rotor is powered—the main rotor autorotates from the forward motion of the aircraft.
There are three primary flight controls: control stick, rudder pedals, and throttle. The control stick is termed cyclic and tilts the rotor in the desired direction to provide pitch and roll control. The rudder pedals provide yaw control, and the throttle controls engine power.
An airplane with folding wings would be insufficiently compact and would catch more wind than a three-wheeled motorcycle could handle. A car could work with folding wings, but the mandatory safety features would increase weight and the large frontal area would further increase the power needed to get off the ground. That’s why the first practical flying car—this PAL-V ONE—is actually a motorcycle-gyrocopter hybrid. The only way we could see it being any better is if it had retractable outriggers a la the Monotracer
To fly the PAL-V or the Terrafugia, you’ll need a Private Pilot License.