Considering the number of car accidents each year, it's not exactly surprising that flying cars haven't taken off yet. Most drivers can barely handle looking forward, backward and side to side -- and adding up and down is just going to make things worse. Still, the future promised us flying cars, so people are working on building flying cars. Here are just a few links on the topic of personal flying vehicles and some other ill-advised ideas.
Recently, some cool new space efforts are lining up to deliver people and payloads into orbit. For example, SpaceX shipped some supplies to the International Space Station, and it's on track to providing a rocket system for ferrying astronauts to the ISS as well. More and more commercial space ventures are competing with government space programs, and this new space race will hopefully continue and create even more inspiring space technologies over the next decade and beyond. Here are just a few other interesting developments along the way.
Ah, the cry of we-want-the-future-now folks has been "where's my flying car?" Well, a very simple version of one may finally be coming to market. A year ago, we noted that the Terrafugia Transition "roadable aircraft" had been approved by the FAA for flight as a light sports aircraft (meaning you don't even need a full pilots license). But it apparently took another year for the Transition to get the necessary "exemptions" from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to let the thing go on the road.
In case you're wondering why it needed exemptions, the LA Times has the details:
So what kinds of special exemptions does a "roadable aircraft" (best name ever) need? Well, special windows, for one. Regular laminated automotive safety glass is too heavy for the Transition while in the air, and there's always a danger that a bird could fracture it. (Dang birds!) Instead of glass windows, the Transition will use a polycarbonate material less prone to shattering. NHTSA also signed off on the use of special tires.
Now, of course, this isn't really the Jetsons-like vision of the flying car people have talked about for ages. The reason it's called a "roadable aircraft" rather than a "flying car" is that the emphasis here is definitely on the aircraft part, and you still have to take off and land at an airport. It's just that you can drive to and from the airport in the same vehicle. And it'll only set you back $250,000 (about $50,000 more than what was reported last year). By the time it actually hits the market next year, perhaps it'll cost even more.
johnjac points us to the news that the FAA's record keeping is so bad that it is "missing key information" on who owns 119,000 out of 357,000 registered private and commercial airplanes. Apparently, the FAA is so bad at record keeping that its solution is to phase out every plane's registration and demand that everyone apply for a new registration to get its database back on track. Apparently, the old system was that you just had to register once, and then you were responsible for letting the FAA know if info changed, but not everyone does that. So, basically, the FAA is rather clueless about approximately 1/3 of what's in the sky.
The joking lamentation of those who were promised, back during the 20th century, of a magical Jetsons-like future in the 21st century, is the famous "but, where's my flying car?" Apparently, it's on the way. Sort of. The FAA is apparently about to give approval to the Transition, which its maker, Terrafugia, refers to as a "roadable aircraft" (catchy!) rather than a flying car. It's basically a car that has foldout wings, which can then be used to take off and land at airports. Not quite the Jetsons flying car of the future, but it's progress, right?
We had noted that there were still a bunch of companies working on flying cars, even as some of the more well known attempts have remained permanently grounded. And, of course, as people will be quick to point out in the comments (I'm sure), the idea of flying cars scares the hell out of some people, since they expect it to mean a lot more air crashes and resulting deaths. Those folks might not be thrilled to note that since this is classified as a light sports aircraft, rather than a full airplane, it doesn't require a full pilot's license -- but instead just needs 20 logged hours of flight.
There are some cool things about the Transition, such as the fact that it uses standard unleaded car fuel, rather than airplane fuel, and the fact that it's designed to fit in a garage when the wings are folded up. But, at $200,000, with rather limited range and cargo holding ability, I wouldn't worry too much about these things becoming particularly common any time soon.
Over the weekend, a story out of the UK began to get some buzz, when an American FAA representative supposedly told a British newspaper that the FAA will not approve in-flight mobile phone calls after the agency received a ton of complaints when it publicly began considering the shift in policy. Of course, this is somewhat meaningless, because the FCC had already said no to the change in policy, and both agencies would likely need to agree before any change went into effect. So, for those of you (and we know there are lots of you) who were terrified by the idea that you might get stuck sitting next to someone jabbering away into a mobile phone for a cross-continent flight... rest easy. Well, rest easy until you realize that voice is just a form of data, and it's only a matter of time until internet access in the sky means the person sitting next you will be jabbering away via Skype for a cross-continent flight no matter what gov't agencies have to say about mobile phones in the sky.