Wheels in the sky - NASA, Boeing want to ease traffic with flying cars

By Allison Linn | Associated Press
San Francisco Examiner

Published on Friday, August 27, 2004

SEATTLE -- It's any frustrated commuter's escapist fantasy: literally lifting your car out of a clogged highway and soaring through the skies, landing just in time to motor into your driveway.

Researchers stress that the ultimate dream -- an affordable, easy-to-use vehicle that could allow regular people to just as easily fly 200 miles to a meeting as drive 15 miles to the mall -- is still probably decades away.

But engineers at NASA, Boeing Co. and elsewhere say the basis for a flying car is there. In fact, people have been building, or trying to build, such vehicles for decades.

The problem is, those ideas have generally required both a lot of money and the skills of a trained pilot. And melding cars and planes hasn't always been so successful.

The goal isn't just to create a neat gizmo: So-called personal air vehicles also will become more and more appealing -- and necessary -- as highways and airport hubs grow more clogged, and commutes more distant.

At NASA, the first goal is to transform small airplane travel. Within five years, NASA researchers hope to develop technology for a small airplane that can fly out of regional airports, costs less than $100,000, and is as quiet as a motorcycle and as simple to operate as a car.

In 10 years, NASA hopes to have created technology for going door-to-door. These still wouldn't be full-fledged flying cars -- instead, they'd be small planes that can drive very short distances on side streets, after landing at a nearby airport.

In 15 years, they hope to have the technology for larger vehicles, seating as many as four passengers, and the ability to make vertical takeoffs.

It will probably take years after these technologies are developed before such vehicles are actually on the market.

And Moore says it will take about 25 years to get to anything "remotely 'Jetsons'-like,'" a reference to the futuristic cartoon that fueled many flying car fantasies.

Researchers at Boeing in Seattle are already thinking that far ahead: they've created a miniature model of a sporty red helicopter/car hybrid that is helping the aerospace giant understand what making flying cars a reality would take.

Lynne Wenberg, senior manager on the project, said the goal is to make a flying car that costs the same as a luxury vehicle, is quiet and fuel-efficient, and is easy to fly and maintain.



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