All Commentary
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Is This Finally Our Flying Car?

Google's Larry Page is backing a flying car, but there are so many out there in addition. Someday, people will laugh at these videos the way we laugh today at the first attempts at flight.

Every living human being dreams of a flying car. Why? Is it the Jetsons? Is it the exhaustion from the traffic jams during which we look up and see the empty space and somehow know for sure that we should be there rather than glued to the black pavement? Is it just a romantic attachment to the idea that flying represents progress?

Do we really need a machine that is both a car and a plane?Whatever, we can’t shake the sense that it is coming. But it is more complicated than it first appears. Does this thing require a runway? If so, you have to drive your flying car to the airport, and you just know it is going to look a bit silly on the highway, and what’s the point when you can just take an Uber to the airport and fly your private plane anyway?

You pretty much want this to take off from your driveway, but then you have a problem with neighbors, tall buildings, and telephone lines, not to mention government regulations. That’s only the start of the issues.

And there is a more fundamental question. Do we really need a machine that is both a car and a plane, or do we actually want a plane that behaves the way that we use a car today? There seems to be a big difference here. Maybe we would just like a big drone instead of a car that becomes a plane? If that is true, we surely require that this be a manned drone.

Still, for all the problems, we can’t get it out of our heads that, whatever it is, should be.

So just yesterday, the world rubber necked a new machine backed by Google’s Larry Page, and a video that came with the release of this thing called the Kitty Hawk. It tells the story of a lake party and someone who comes over from another house, flying across the water. And yet, one wonders as you watch: why not just take a boat? Or maybe a jet ski?

In every case I’ve seen, and perhaps because we only know the cartoon versions, all of them are rather disappointing. There are many, even hundreds, of prototypes out there. Surely, then, we are only in the first stages of this. Someday, people will laugh at these videos the way we laugh today at the first attempts at flight.

But once you watch these, you are not left with a universal sense of inspiration but rather slight disappointment. Will we never see what we think of as a flying car in our lifetimes?

Maybe but it won’t come through a great unveiling. It will emerge gradually from small improvements in existing technology, and not from one maker either but many tinkerers all over the world.

Here are a few, starting with Larry Page’s favorite:


The AeroMobil 3.0, with awesome music.


The newest version of the Pal-V, which looks strange but seems to work.


The amazing TerraFugia, which is very amazing but hmmmmm.


The Maverick is the most awkward of all the machines but has the advantage of being in actual use. And as you watch the operation, you can see the complete genius behind the system. And yet, it is functional but not really futuristic.

If we are willing to let go entirely of the idea of the car part of the flying car, we have these.

The EHang 184 MegaDrone. Wow! Hey didn’t we have something called the “helicopter” like 60 years ago?

And the Quadro UAS, something of a homemade contraption but not entirely without merit.


Much slicker, and complete with anthemic electronic music, comes the Velocoptor VC200. But this one really drives home the point. Let’s just admit that the existing helicopter is better.

This machine without a fancy name or video seems rather promising, if enormously harrowing with all the power lines around. Still….


In the end, the greatest innovation came from 1962, and the image that we are still, in the 21st century, trying to make our own version of this. This is what we want. When, oh, when will we get it?