The dream of flight

June 23, 2017 | 07:00
To fly is a wonderful thing and humanity has always gazed skyward with an envious eye at birds that soar effortlessly through the heavens. Greek mythology identified Icarus as an early casualty, more recently Otto Lilienthal made fantastic hang glider designs in the late nineteenth century and where would we be without the contribution of the Wright brothers? Over the years there have been many attempts to make a vehicle that you can drive on land and also in the air. Now the wait is over…

The Dutch company PAL-V has produced a radical tandem two-seater vehicle design that can switch between a road-going car and flying gyro-copter in just a few minutes. The PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) Liberty model is basically an aerodynamic, three-wheeler gyro-copter with a pusher prop. The main rotor automatically folds and unfolds as required. Thanks to its shape, the tilting three wheels and a foldable rotor the ‘aeromobile’ can not only fly but also drive on normal roads. Conversion from an airplane to a road-going vehicle takes only a few minutes. Its take-off distance is around 180 m and, typical for this type of airplane, the landing distance is quite a bit shorter (30 m) because it can land almost like a helicopter. According to the company, all the administrative hurdles have been overcome and the necessary road and air certificates have been issued. The prototype has been flying over a year and pre-production models are now to be built so that next year production can begin.

 
Video of startup and Flight of a Liberty. Image and Video from PAL-V.

You have to take your hat off to the designers at PAL-V Company for their technical achievement. Even so I wonder if the marketing forecast for such a vehicle has been over optimistic. It will never be as simple as pressing a button on the dash to switch between road and air mode although I’ve often longed for such a button; snarled up in slow-moving traffic and late for a meeting. To fly this bird you will need training, a license and airfields. All flights require preparation to make sure your planned route doesn’t infringe controlled airspace and weather conditions are suitable en route and at your destination. On the road you never need worry about such things. Imagine if this sort of vehicle could be produced so cheaply that everyone used one, given the current aviation infrastructure things would get a bit chaotic.
I suppose there is no reason why the technology that brought us self-driving cars could not eventually be extended into the 3D realm of aviation with no input required from the pilot at all. Anyhow, until that day, the basic PAL-V liberty sport will be selling at US $399,000 and the company is looking for customers now, better start saving…

 
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