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FLYING CAR, full hover, fairly quiet, offered to US Marines

Nippy VTOL hatchback gets 19 mpg in flight

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Soon: 'Highway' takes on quite a literal meaning

The military are in general allowed to do what they like, of course, but everyone else has to obey the regulations of the civil aviation authorities. Initially, Logi Aerospace suggest, the Tyrannos would be handled by the American FAA as though it were a helicopter.

This would mean tiresome and expensive licensing and training to be allowed to fly one in most US airspace, but Logi hope that in the near future the feds might be persuaded to designate dedicated low-level sky highways for Tyrannos-style automated shroudprop craft, complete with virtual cloverleaf off and on descent/ascent "ramps" to suitable landing/takeoff sites. These would be accompanied by a new class of licence, allowing air-car operators to fly their craft manually or on automatic along these routes, which would be in largely empty low-level airspace and easy for regular aircraft to keep clear of.

Tyrannos operators would be able to avoid collisions with each other much as drivers do, as they would be in a very similar situation. It would be a relatively simple matter to make sure they were aware of each other even in clouds: suitable location-beacon tech has already been trialled.

Further into the future, perhaps following the introduction of much more automated air-traffic control (a thing which the FAA is pushing towards anyway, and which has again already been demonstrated) it might become legal to use the fully robotic controls without a qualified operator aboard.

Other common objections to flying cars are cost and maintenance issues. Though a current light aircraft doesn't contain any technology radically more sophisticated than a car — indeed often it is quite old-fashioned compared to some modern cars — it is vastly more expensive to run, largely owing to stringent maintenance and safety regulations.

There can't be much doubt that a Tyrannos would cost more to buy and maintain than a Humvee, but it's worth noting that Logi expect to deliver a flying prototype within the modest Transformer TX funding of $43m — peanuts compared to what it costs to develop a normal military flying thing, and indeed not much in the context of a major motor company's car development budget. The Tyrannos crew also insist that much use is made in the design of off-the-shelf, highly reliable light-aircraft and car components, which should push down running costs. A supercharged racecar engine should be cheaper to look after than a gas turbine or even a normal aero piston engine.

It's still fair to say that a Tyrannos looks as though it would initially be beyond the financial reach of most, but if it does actually see service with the Marines en masse, costs would fall for a subsequent civil version.

That seems to be a clean sweep: hovering and VTOL, quietness, redundant safety, decent road performance. If it works to spec — and that's an awfully big if — the Tyrannos is potentially a real, working flying car.

Reader beware, however. The Transformer TX project is being run not by the Marines themselves but by DARPA, the Pentagon crazytech agency which won't even touch a project unless it is extremely unlikely to succeed.

"Give us ideas that probably won't work," that is DARPA's motto: and the Tyrannos team assembled their design specifically to DARPA requirements. And, let it be noted, they have yet to satisfy even DARPA's very relaxed rules on what kind of ideas should get taxpayers' money spent on them.

All that said, though, this one looks well worth keeping an eye on. ®

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