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Driving to Work as the Crow Flies

Developing a flying car!

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Oh, wait. That’s just you going to work.

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If Paul Moller has his way, traffic reports may focus less on road congestion and more on how clear the skies are. Why? Because for the last 40 years, Moller, a mechanical engineer based in California, has been developing a flying car. His latest version, the M400 Skycar – the sixth version of a continually improving line of prototype flying cars – looks like it has the best shot to make it to the mainstream. On paper, it looks like a dream come true. It can cruise at 350 mph, fly at 30,000 feet and gets about 20 miles to the gallon, meaning you only need to fill it up once every 900 miles. And think of how cool it will be to fly to work in something you park in your garage, since the four-passenger Skycar is just slightly larger than an SUV.

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To some, Moller is a genius with an invention that will revolutionize travel. To others, he’s a crackpot with a vision more distorted than Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. But if his invention hits, he may go down in history as a hero. Traffic snarls would be a thing of the past, everyone would arrive at their destinations faster (because of the added speed and you can actually travel “as the crow flies”) and there would be less air pollution.

But if all this can be done, then what’s taking so long? Why aren’t Skycars in our garages now?

For one thing, Moller says the money needed to get his Skycar mass-produced would run about $500 million, and finding enough investors to foot this bill has been difficult. But he insists it would pay off big for investors (he envisions a $75 billion return upon mass-production, and others put the long-term numbers at $1 trillion). Also, the logistics of the contraption keep investors wary. Too many questions remain: How will traffic be managed in the sky? Why hasn’t the Skycar prototype been publicly tested, as promised? How much will it cost?

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Moller promises that the Skycar will be convenient. You won’t need a landing strip in your yard. Instead, you just need a 35-foot-diameter circle, since the Skycar can take off vertically. Moller is also working on technology that would allow a computer-navigation system to do the driving for you. It’s like Knight Rider in the sky!You just type in your destination, and the car takes you there. The navigation system would work in conjunction with a satellite guidance system that keeps track of other Skycars in the area – that way, you don’t hit them. In fact, Moller asserts that the Skycar may be the safest way to travel.

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The Skycar has had many public demonstration dates pushed back. Originally slated to be displayed last summer, the dates kept changing, though Moller still promises that the final developments should be completed by this fall and that the test should take place soon after that.

As far as cost, the first few Skycars may run you about $400,000, but with a low APR, that’s not too bad. Moller says that following mass production, the cost will be closer to $60,000. In fact, Moller has accepted a number of $5,000 deposits from people who want the first completed Skycars, though he’s put a cap on taking any more.

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You may have a Skycar in your garage in as little as three or as much as 20 years into the future, if at all. But if it happens, the eye in the sky may be you.

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