TF-X Flying Car to Hit Roads (and Skies) by 2018

Terrafugia, a US-based small aircraft manufacturer, is building its first flying car, and has revealed that it hopes to begin testing it as soon as 2018. The TF-X is a hybrid electric flying car, which can carry four people, has unfolding wings with twin-mounted electric motors on either sides to propel the vehicle in the air, and is capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). The TF-X can fly at speeds of 200mph for up to 500 miles.

The driver of the TF-X won’t need a pilot’s licence – just a standard driver’s licence – since the vehicle is semi-autonomous; you only need to tell the TF-X to take off and land at a designated spot. Prospective buyers need only take a weekend-long training course to operate the craft.

“The TF-X is the practical realization of the dream of countless visions of the future; it is designed to be the flying car for all of us,” according to the Terrafugia website. “In order to achieve this long-sought-after vision, Terrafugia will focus the TF-X program with clear goals that enhance the safety, simplicity, and convenience of personal transportation.  We believe these goals are achievable today.”

Following rigorous testing from 2018 onwards, Terrafugia hopes to make the TF-X available for sale by 2025. The Federal Aviation Administration has already given Terrafugia approval to test the TF-X within the US.

Elon Musk “Tempted” to Build Electric VTOL Jet

Not content with his fleet of Tesla electric cars, his astronautics startup SpaceX, and his attempts to revolutionise public transport with Hyperloop, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has revealed that he is “tempted” to build an electric vertical-take off and landing (VTOL) jet plane.

“I’ve been thinking about the vertical-take off and landing electric jet a bit more,” Musk said at a recent Hyperloop event, International Business Times reports. “I think I have something that might close. I’m quite tempted to do something about it.”

While the audience initially responded with disbelieving laughter, the statement was met with cheers and applause once it was clear that Musk was being serious. Though, it did prompt a question: “How do you convince people that your ideas aren’t crazy?”

“In starting SpaceX, they definitely thought I was crazy,” Musk replied. “One of my best friends compiled a long video of rockets crashing and made me watch the whole thing. Other friends involved in a rocket startup said it was a terrible idea, and I thought we had a really tiny chance of succeeding anyway, like 10%… and it was very close [to failure] but I think, ultimately, seeing is believing… that’s what convinces people.”

Musk has voiced his desire to build an electric VTOL jet before. “I do like the idea of an electric aircraft company,” he told Marketplace in 2015. “I do think one could do a pretty cool supersonic, vertical-take off and landing electric jet. That would be really fun.”

FLARES – A New Drone Launch and Retrieval System

Just like a full-sized aeroplane, landing a fixed wing drone is no easy feat, made even more difficult under poor ground conditions and lack of space. Most drone makers accept this issue by designing their drones to handle light crash landings. Sometimes this just isn’t reasonable, be it due to the risk of damage to the drone or space limitations such as on warships. Boeing subsidiary Insitu has an answer to this problem, the Flying Launch and Recovery System, or FLARES for short.

FLARES, at least in appearance is incredibly straightforward. The drone to be launched is attached to the underside of the craft by the ground crew. It then carries the attached drone up into the air. Once at a sufficient altitude, the attached drone revs its engines up to speed and then detaches from the FLARES craft. The quadcopter then returns to the ground crew, where it can be fitted with a skyhook. Once back in the air, the drone snags onto the skyhook hanging from the quadcopter, arresting its momentum similarly to landing on an aircraft carrier. The ground crew can then safely reel in the drone using the skyhook pulley on the ground.

So far, the main craft used to test FLARES has been a lightweight version of the ScanEagle UAV, proving the system currently able to catch a craft of around 40 pounds in weight. And the tests that have been run so far only used existing commercial stock, which means there could be plenty of advancements with more specialist hardware, allowing the system to be used with larger and heavier drones.  The system is still in its infancy too, with the tests demonstrating the system being the first time the system has been trialed, the success of which appear to be quite remarkable. When fully realized, FLARES could allow the development and deployment of more advanced fixed wing drones, with far less concern for handling almost inevitable crashing or the site from which it operates.

NASA Launches 10-Engine Electric Plane

NASA is testing a 10-engined prototype battery-powered VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aeroplane. The 10-foot wingspan GL-10 plane, codenamed Greased Lightning, is currently being put through a rigorous design and testing phase at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, and is meant as the precursor to an even larger, 20-foot wingspan model, which may be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

“We have a couple of options that this concept could be good for,” said aerospace engineer Bill Fredericks. “It could be used for small package delivery or vertical take off and landing, long endurance surveillance for agriculture, mapping and other applications. A scaled up version—much larger than what we are testing now—would make also a great one to four person size personal air vehicle.”

David North, a member of the GL-10’s engineering team, added, “We built 12 prototypes, starting with simple five-pound (2.3 kilograms) foam models and then 25-pound (11.3 kilograms), highly modified fiberglass hobby airplane kits all leading up to the 55-pound (24.9 kilograms), high quality, carbon fiber GL-10 built in our model shop by expert technicians.”

“Each prototype helped us answer technical questions while keeping costs down. We did lose some of the early prototypes to ‘hard landings’ as we learned how to configure the flight control system. But we discovered something from each loss and were able to keep moving forward.”

With initial tests promising – the GL-10 has passed its hover test, taking off vertically and hanging in the air like a helicopter – the biggest hurdle was to transition the craft from hovering to flying.

“During the flight tests we successfully transitioned from hover to wing-borne flight like a conventional airplane then back to hover again. So far we have done this on five flights,” Fredericks said. “We were ecstatic. Now we’re working on our second goal—to demonstrate that this concept is four times more aerodynamically efficient in cruise than a helicopter.”

The next test will assess the GL-10’s aerodynamic efficiency, and NASA engineers are optimistic that Greased Lightning will prove a success.

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1990s Flying Car Prototype Up For Auction

Back in the late-eighties, ambitious aeronautics company Sky Innovations pumped $6 million into the production a flying car. The result of that folly, the Sky Commuter, helped bankrupt the business. Only three prototypes of the Sky Commuter were produced in 1990, and the last surviving model is being put up for auction this coming weekend.

The technology behind the Sky Commuter is the same that allows a Harrier Jump Jet to take off from a standing position, known as vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). However, Sky Innovations were never able to prove – either in practical demonstrations or photographs – that any of the three Commuters produced could achieve VTOL flight, and the model on sale is being sold as a non-working prototype.

The Sky Commuter last sold back in 2008 for $130,000. Here is the description of Sky Innovation’s VTOL from that previous auction:

It has a operational electric gas assisted lexan bubble canopy. Electric controlled directional driving and landing lights. Electric Joystick and two foot pedals on both side and the craft was meant to be controlled from either seat. Advanced front dash shell made of Carbon fiber and Kevlar. Rear engine and electronics bay accessible by tilting seats forward and removing the back panel. (3) huge 3 foot lifting fans CCW/CW rotation. This was made to take off in vertical fight and land. It can be landed on water and float like a boat and take off of water. The targeted dream was to lift above it all and not deal with the daily gridlock traffic. Nearly at the finish line it all came to an abrupt stop and all the years, investment, R&D and production remains in this one craft shown here.

The Sky Commuter is being sold at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona on Saturday, with no reserve.

Source: Gizmodo