Flying Cars

Come Fly-Drive With Me

It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's a car! Source: DLR
It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's a car-copter. A simulated prototype of the Mycopter.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Several European research institutes working on a Personal Aerial Vehicle called “Mycopter” have presented their first findings.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Scientists have developed a steering wheel controller with automatic control technology that dramatically simplifies flying.
    • Researchers are exploring issues such as avoiding aerial collisions, the potential for swarming and automatic landing spot recognition.
    • The first attempt to build a flying car was in 1910 in San Diego, U.S.A.
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    Audio

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Ever been stuck in a terrible traffic jam and dreamed simply of flying away from it all? The dream could become reality in the not-so-distant future.

Scientists at the German Aerospace Center, DLR, are working with three other European research centers on a car that can fly.

DLR is leading the “Mycopter” project with the University of Liverpool, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Germany. The ambitious program is exploring the viability of individual air transport.

The idea isn’t new. There have been various attempts at combining a car and helicopter. American scientists in San Diego tinkered with a flying car in 1910. The engineer Walter Waterman proved it was possible in 1937 with his Aerobile. More recently, the Terrafugia Transition took to the air in 2009.

Far more difficult is the question of how to organize flying cars in an urban environment and, whether average drivers could operate such vehicles without years of practice.

Learning how to fly a helicopter normally requires extensive training.

DLR scientists believe a special steering wheel might help.

“We’ve managed to develop a steering wheel controller with automatic control technology that dramatically simplifies flying,” said Stefan Levedag, the director of the DLR’s flight control technology division.

“Up till now, a helicopter pilot has to keep an eye on all four control lines,” said Bianca Schuchardt from DLR. The Mycopter steering wheel eliminates one control axis. The pilot controls the vehicle horizontally with the wheel and accelerates or brakes with two pedals – just like in a car.

To change altitude, a helicopter pilot uses a lever, called the collective, but DLR has developed a version with paddles behind the steering wheel.

The technology may not only simplify pilot training, but also make flying considerably safer.

“Our idea was to make great use of auto drivers’ intuitive knowledge for pilot training,” Mr. Levedag said.

The technology may not only simplify pilot training, but make flying considerably safer. For example, rescue helicopters often have to fly in difficult, dangerous conditions.

The new steering wheel developed by DLR is being tested in a simulator in Braunschweig, Germany.

“It’s super easy,” Mr. Levedag said.

Researchers have also rebuilt an Airbus Eurocopter and replaced the collective with their own controller for actual flight-testing.

The Mycopter project is addressing more than just the technical aspects of flying cars. Scientists in Lausanne, Switzerland, for example, are researching issues such as avoiding aerial collisions, the potential for swarming and automatic landing spot recognition.

And their colleagues in Karlsruhe are exploring the possible societal problems caused by “personal aerial vehicles,” such as how people react to increasingly busy airspace density and the dangers of those reactions in densely populated areas.

Although the scientists are making progress, the dream of a flying car will remain just that for some time to come.

This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: redaktion@tagesspiegel.de

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