HOW THE VOLANTE WAS DESIGNED
A Deeper discussion
This section is one you should look for on every flying car web site. It will tell you the reasoning behind all of the decisions that the designer made as he worked his way through the many choices that must be considered. As you get an idea about how he was thinking, you can determine the degree of similarity to your own views and ultimately decide if his vision of “designed for the need” is the same as yours.
What I did was try to put myself in the position of the average pilot, neither wealthy nor poor, and to figure out what he would want in his machine if he was designing it himself. This wasn’t too hard because that is who I am. Before we get too deep into the designer choices, consider that every flying car must have two capabilities to even be considered by you.
1. It must fit in one side of a double garage and be conveniently available in any configuration for usage at any time. This is what allows freedom from hangar rent or, alternatively, tie down costs with the attendant weathering expense.
2. It must be able to travel on the road with all of its flight components or it will not have the very important capability to drive through bad weather. Not all flying cars in the past have had this capability.
Back now to our decision process for the Volante and the first step.
FLYING CAR OR ROADABLE AIRCRAFT
• A separable car that can be made to fly. . . OR
• An airplane that can be folded up so it is able to drive on the highway
As a starting point, to ground our thinking in reality, we looked at current usage data and decided to make allowances for changes we can expect with the more capable combination of automobile and airplane.
The average pilot today flies approximately 50 hours per year. With the more capable flying car, this will certainly increase but unlikely by more than fourfold to 200 hours per year—enough for his or her sport flying, several vacations, and quite a few business trips– actually the equivalent of 1 ½ times around the world.
On the other hand, he or his wife have to drive every day to work, to the market, to play golf, to the hairdresser etc., and normally this is done over quite a long interval between flights. Think about which type of machine you would like to use to do this driving — an unencumbered separable car like the Volante, or a folded up airplane. Also think about your relative exposure to damage. A minor bump on the side or the rear of a roadable could mean reworking not only the car exterior, but a very critical to flying safety wing or tail surfaces. We believe that the sleek separable machine would be preferred in this real world scenario and came up with a very satisfactory car in combination, with a flight component trailer as shown in our video. Our final decision was not made until we finished the analysis and quite a bit of the design.
This interim decision provided yet another potential benefit. Any builder can expect to have a ready to use car in a very short building time after purchasing his first kit. He can pause here for a period of time, possibly to save money for the next kit and use his new car in the interim. For the inexperienced builder worried about the “all or nothing” aspect involved in starting to build a complete and trustworthy flying car, there is a further advantage. He can opt to spend a relatively small amount on a confidence building learning experience with the car that will still result in a useful product, even if he decides not to go on to the flight section. We also expect a significant number if buyers who will only want the car capability.
Conversion time and difficulty
We have our first cut at configuration pretty well defined at this point. To make the above course of action acceptable, the conversion of airplane to car and trailer and back must be quick and easy. We set as a goal 10 minutes, less than the time that one spends gassing up and tying down an airplane after a flight. These steps are pretty much all shown happening with ease in our opening video, but I suggest you insist that all flying car sellers, including Volante, provide you with a detailed list of these steps and data from a timed demonstration. This information must be prepared after the entire machine has been driven successfully in a crosswind on a highway with normal traffic and 18 wheeler turbulence. These real world tests tend to change configurations and in turn, conversion times. This brings us to our next design consideration: roadability. Before we go there, I want to say that Volante will be providing the type of information mentioned above in the next few months as we put our prototype to work again.
As we implied above, roadability can’t be proven by driving into the wind on a runway. One must take a flying car on the highway — with traffic of all types interacting with it — and conduct tests in all usable configurations. We have driven a dynamically equivalent car in that environment with excellent results, but this test still needs to be redone with the actual car, along with testing of the car with trailer attached. Results of these tests conducted on our prototype are expected in the next few months, long before the commitment to buy a Volante is made. Deposits to hold a delivery position are one thing. Betting a down payment on a “paper” airplane is another.
What we can and have already done is to use prior experience and judgment on areas that would seem to present obvious problems. For instance, from our early study of prior flying cars we learned that the wing on the 1945/6 Aerocar, which was stored vertically in the trailer configuration, resulted in so much sail area that the maximum practical road speed was 35 mph. This came directly from the owner of the last Aerocar still flying and driving, 60 years after coming out of Molt Taylor’s shop. Knowing this vulnerability during design, we had already chosen to store the wings parallel to surface wind flow (i.e. across the center section). Since then, frontal area and wind effect have been further reduced by moving them to a position horizontally along the booms as in the video. The tall vertical stabilizer was next made capable of folding down as our familiarity with directional stability told us that presence of such surfaces while driving in a crosswind would tend to make the car weathercock into the resulting wind vector. On top of that would be the unpredictable effect of heavy turbulence caused by an adjacent 18 wheeler.
OWNERSHIP AND OPERATING COST
Probably the largest one-time dollar saving with a flying car is its procurement cost, which can all be arbitrarily assigned to the incremental premium for fly/drive above the price for an airplane only. Viewed from that perspective you really get a bargain, even realizing that it is impossible to design such a machine without some penalty with respect to the airplane-only counterpart. Next in line is the previously mentioned capability to keep it in one side of the family garage. Here in Southern California this saving may, in time, actually exceed the above, particularly as hangar rent is a monthly recurring charge ($200 to $1500). There are other advantages to keeping your flying car in your garage. As you probably know, under FAA rules, if you built it originally you can maintain it. At your fingertips, this can be done conveniently and at your leisure. On top of that, you will be vastly safer from damage, whether it is caused by an electronics thief, a mischievous teenager, or by a nest of robins who regard your engine compartment as an ideal place to raise their young.
Beyond these savings, common to all flying cars there are other design-determined choices to be made. We chose direct prop drive using a proven aircraft engine to propel the airplane, the Lycoming 0320, because we did not have to qualify it for aircraft usage, a very long and expensive process when done by an engine supplier. On top of that, this engine can be upgraded from 160 hp to 180 hp by a reliable homebuilt engine supplier who has also been a certified parts supplier for this engine for many years.
We also chose not to use this engine to drive the car through some kind of improvised power take-off, again a reliability decision. The decision to use a ground drive engine, more closely matched to the driving need, was made for two reasons. One was a welcome 60 to 80 mpg fuel economy, and the other was that the driving time would not accumulate on the aircraft power plant, which is at least ten times more expensive to overhaul and maintain than the ground unit. Our calculations tell us that using the widely available commercial car drive power train to independently drive the car, we only incurred about a 100 pound weight penalty. In our case, we also didn’t want an otherwise successful flying car demonstration program to be foiled by a move preventable on our part.
Regarding our last operating expense, insurance, we are currently looking at this again and expect the situation to become clearer in the next few months. It would appear that the novel problem that the flying car presents to the insurance industry will take some sorting out for all types of machines. Last time we did this was with a previous flying car that also had a separable driving element. The conventional insurance companies we contacted declined to write a policy on the basis that they would have difficulty determining when their liability ended and that of the aircraft policy holder began, and vice versa. This was actually their easiest way out and we did not go into an extensive investigation of our options at that time. It would appear that under the worst case scenario, we would have to use state run assigned risk programs until there is more of an experience base built up.
When we registered our ground test vehicle in California, we never intended to take that machine into the air, so it was simply insured as a custom motorcycle, a relatively inexpensive process with a declared value of 20,000 dollars. Since insurance cost takes the amount of driving into account, we think that the same minimal rate should apply when using just the car section, and this would be the majority of the time. As to how they will handle the limited but high value travel time with the trailer attached, we have yet to learn — but since this operation will be far less frequent than the car alone, we look forward to a pleasant outcome. As we look into this, we will investigate the options for the “all in one” machine, as well. It would seem that one would want to insure their total fly/drive machine against driving accidents at its estimated value in the vicinity of 450,000 + dollars. What the very vulnerable airplane that simply folds its wing will cost is anybody’s guess. As you will note, all of the above discussion relates to driving only. The flight insurance problem appears to be less contentious, although there is still the interface issue. The problem looks quite easily solvable in any event once the insurance folks are convinced that flying cars are a permanent part of the transportation system. We’ll be back later with more information on both operational areas.
Extra baggage space
For the car we are considering making available either a rigid composite or a “convertible like” foldable fabric cover for the space where the aircraft engine is normally located. This will add about 7+ cubic feet more baggage space when in place. Of the two, only the foldable fabric unit would be usable in the travel mode. The rigid structure would be for home use only. We will show you pictures of both in the coming months.
With today’s proven whole aircraft parachute, airbags and familiar GPS for navigation, the flying car becomes much safer and far easier to operate than it would have been a few years ago. Imagine trying to find a grass field in Iowa without GPS.
Learning to fly
It is a little known fact that learning to fly in good weather takes just about the same skill and time as that required to learn to drive. Although it is certainly the exception, individuals have actually received an FAA authorization to fly by themselves (solo) in just one day. In fact, the FAA requirement for a Light Sport Aircraft pilot license calls for a total of just 20 hours of total time. Fifteen of these hours are with an instructor, just about the same amount of time that a responsible parent would expect to spend watching over a new automobile driver to the point where they can be allowed out alone in the family car. At present you will need a private pilot license to fly the Volante and when traveling with the trailer attached to the car, registrations for each of those plus a standard driver’s license.