Thursday, 7 January 2010

Flying Cars

Dr Moller in 1967... Notice the altitude, and the somewhat iffy attitude control.
Moller Aircars, to be precise, I've been following their story, on and off, since the first glossy magazine articles of the seventies promised imminent production of flying cars at road-car prices.

1989, this one flew a little better, looked great, a flying saucer for the masses.

They tried to sell the prototype on ebay, in 2008, but nobody came remotely near the 3.5 million reserve price.

Ah! At last, the real thing.... or is it?
This one's supposed to fly even if two engines fail. Basic mechanics and seat of the pants physics suggest that that's somewhat unlikely, given that the centre of thrust is nowhere near the centre of gravity. Maybe diagonally opposite engines would be survivable. In dead calm. Ten feet up, Above something very forgiving, like a big haystack. Um, a big fireproof haystack.

"Please note, the Moller Skycar is currently only at the "concept" stage".
What's not said here is that the longest it's ever flown for is sixty seconds. That it's never  flown free, it's always attached to a crane. Sometimes, according to eye-witnesses, the crane performs the take-off, not the engines. Um. It flies without anyone in the cockpit. I wonder why?
Moller's publicity shots have often shown a smilling Dr Moller at the controls. However, there seems to be no evidence that this thing can fly with a human, untethered.
So, 45 years after he started, some 100 million dollars poured into the development, (some sources suggest it is closer to 200 million), we have a very pretty thing that flies for 45 seconds, travels ten yards, and lands badly.
In 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Moller for civil fraud (Securities And Exchange Commission v. Moller International, Inc., and Paul S. Moller, Defendants) in connection with the sale of unregistered stock, and for making unsubstantiated claims about the performance of the Skycar. Moller settled this lawsuit by agreeing to a permanent injunction and paying $50,000. In the words of the SEC complaint, "As of late 2002, MI's approximately 40 years' [sic] of development has resulted in a prototype Skycar capable of hovering about fifteen feet above the ground."

"Moller International has an accumulated deficits of $45,525,462 and a working capital deficit of $11,376,885 as of September 30, 2009."

Doctor Moller filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in may 2009 , as reported in the Sacramento Business Journal .
Still, it's not all bad. Somehow, whilst pouring a lifetime's work and a mountain of money into a futuristic machine that has NEVER demonstrated the abilities claimed for it, Dr Moller declares his private, not corporate, assets to be over 46 million dollars.
There do appear to be some spin-off technologies,  they say their muffler/spark arrestors are sought after worldwide, that their wankel rotary developments are world beating... Hm. Maybe I'd better tip out my piggy bank and invest.

Oh, apparently those supergood wankel Rotary engines, air-cooled for weight control, don't actually cool very well... so they can't run for very long.

It seems to me that most people trying to develop a new technology work first on the technical aspects, build it out of old bedframes and lego, until they've got an ugly, but demonstrably workable prototype. Whereas it sems Moller works from the other end. Draw a Jetsons-like flying car, tell people it will travel 500 miles at 350 miles per hour, rescue people from burning buildings, commute more easily than by car, sell them in advance, promising FAA certification very soon, and, year by year, fail to deliver one single shred of evidence that your (extremely noisy, and therefore certain to be banned in any residential setting)  device will do any of the things you claim. In the YouTube video, it's shown taking off, hovering, and landing (in a rather unconvincing, unlevel, thump), all whilst tethered to a safety crane.
I've been unable to locate anything to suggest this lovely glossy thing can actually take off and transition into stable forward flight at 60, 350, 500, or any miles per hour at all.
Animations on Moller's website? Ha.

If you go to Moller's own website, there's  only happiness, sweetness  and light.
in "What people are saying" it's all upbeat. No mention of the chapter 11 bankruptcy.


  1. All very true Soubriquet. I, however, still think the concept is workable, perhaps Moller should have started with flying boats though.

  2. ....hmmm, wonder how much thrust it would take to lift and propell an aluminum row boat? Note that the higher the thrusters are above the center of mass, the more aerostable the design should be. Plus, it's a lot less fatal to fall 15 feet and eject into water, people could feasibly eject at least high dive height into 8 foot of water and still not get hurt.

  3. Well, Flux, "flying" at low altitude, over water isa technology already well covered, we've had hovercraft, commercial and d.i.y since the early sixties, they're a proven technology. They have their drawbacks, it's true, but, on some sorts of territory, like sandbanked, shoaling river eastuaries and mudflats, they're the ONLY machine short of a helicopted that can get there.

    Or, if you want to go a little higher, a Wigig. Wing in Ground-effect vehicle. like the Russian Ekranoplans.... or some smaller german varieties, I feel a post coming on.....

  4. Rita here
    Well, you know how I feel about it. :)Minus all the technology talk.
    I guess it's the challenge more then the money that keeps people at it.

  5. Rita again
    I goggled Modern Mechanix. What a funny old magazine.
    When I was kid I loved the ads in comic books as much as the comics themselves. All that cool stuff you could buy, x-ray glasses, a whole army of plastic soldiers for a dollar, sea monkeys, etc... If I'd had the money to buy any of it, I would have been disillusioned & forced to face the real world, but hey, that's the stuff that daydreams are made of.

  6. Me too Rita, i wanted all that stuff, sea monkeys, x-ray spex! oh yes, I wanted those, I wanted Charles Atlas to provide me with muscles, still, I never had, it seems, the money, and maybe, maybe, my young mind was telling me that it might be better to live with dreams, than to find it all a hoax.


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