There is a perennial favorite for the candidate of 'first flying car'. It is called the Moller M400 Skycar, and is being built by Moller Aerospace in California USA. I'm not entirely sure what the holdup is, since the engines that will power it already work in smaller projects like drones. It uses Rotapower engines, which are patented by Moller; AFAIK, these are an evolution of the Wankel rotary engine inside a fan duct. The Skycar itself has been built, and shown at auto and aviation shows; In addition, Popular Science (and I think Wired) did writeups on it. One of them (probably in the Wired millenium edition) has photos and a full cutaway diagram.

One of the claimed sticking points is the law. Moller has gotten the FAA to create an entirely new class of vehicle in the powered lift category, the volantor; however, there is no way the aviation infrastructure is ready for a V/STOL personal aircraft in any kind of numbers.

Other notable qualities of the Skycar are its price and performance. Moller claims to be able to build 'em for around $80K US if they build 5,000 or more per year (I'll believe that when I see it). Initially, I think the tag for the first run will be around $250,000. $5,000 down now gets you a spot in line for one of the first, as a refundable deposit.

The Skycar uses ducted fan lift to take off. It has four nacelles, with two Rotapower engines per nacelle. Once airborne, fan thrust is gradually directed rearwards to produce forward flight. According to the company, the Skycar will not only use fan thrust for lift, but its airframe is a lifting body. At speeds of 150 knots or more, it is supported entirely by aerodynamic lift generated by the bodyshell. It can fly horizontally with several engines out; you just need to find a reasonably long runway to put it down on, since its stall speed is so high. One handy feature of the rotary engine is its ability to handle various types of fuels. Moller's original M400 prototype has run on both gasoline and methanol, and (as auctioned) contained the high-volume fuel injectors necessary to run on methanol.

You'll need a pilot's license to fly one. I don't know if it will be for a single engine or multiengine aircraft...or if the volantor class will even have these distinctions.

Final safety note: the Skycar contains a rocket-deployed parachute system. In the event of system failure during a vertical takeoff or landing, the rocket fires vertically and opens a parachute large enough to support the aircraft in a few seconds. Note that this won't save the aircraft (well, it might, if you're lucky) but it's really designed to save the passengers.

Check it out for yourself at

Here comes the future, and I got my ticket clutched in my tight sweaty fist.

Update: 1/25/03 Moller International has announced that it will be placing the original M400 Skycar prototype for auction! If you have the coin and the yen, you can own the beast. They state that this particular prototype has made several flights, although only unmanned; further, it is fully equipped with pilot's controls etc. and comes with the three system consoles used to fly it remotely via a tether in the flight tests. They are currently constructing a more powerful version to undergo untethered flight testing later in 2003 (hopefully). So what're you waiting for? Get thee hence to eBay and bid! Heh.

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