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Brits roll out jam-busting airtaxi

Not quite a flying car, but close

Things have been a little quiet of late on the flying car scene, and we appear to be no closer to a Moller M400 on the front drive than we were a couple of years back when we first reported on the Transport of the Future™

Despite the hype, we've been waiting fifty years for visionaries to come good on their promise of the freedom of the skies for the average Joe. From time to time there is a little teaser - a report that the Swiss or the Indians are about to get us all airborne for the price of a small family car - but on every occassion our expectations soon turn to bitter disappointment.

So it is with a great deal of scepticism that we point readers in the direction of Avcen, a British (sort-of) flying car outfit which reckons it will fills the skies above Blighty with its $1m Jetpod by 2010. The said vehicle comes in a range of flavours: the T-100 "low-cost world-class city airtaxi"; P-200 "easy and safe to fly personal twinjet aircraft"; M-300 "battlefield Transpeeder"; E-400 "civil air ambulance variant"; and the U-500 "civil or military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)".

The Jetpod range

The basic principle is the same for all models: two overwing jet engines for VQSTOL (Very Quiet Short Take-Off and Landing) operation. Part of the engine's thrust is directed downwards through the wings to provide the additional vertical thrust required for the quick get-away. Avcen's tradition approach to propulsion is interesting given the current mania for ducted fans and tilting engines, and is rationalised thus:

There are some innovations in aircraft propulsion that are either under going construction or still on the drawing board such as tilt-rotors and electric ducted-fans respectively. In the case of the former, these ideally vertical-lift craft could reach speeds of 250 kts but their noise and very expensive production costs could prevent them from being accepted commercially. As for electric ducted fans, unless there is a break-through in the technology necessary to increase thrust to weight ratio in this type of power unit, then future development will almost certainly be stunted. It is only in recent years that we have witnessed considerable technological advancements in engine design, fuel efficiency and advanced materials technologies, such that new jet engines are now very fuel-efficient. Therefore, operating jet-engined aircraft on very fast, low-level, point-to-point short-sectors makes more commercial sense today than ever before.

What the last part of the blurb means is 350mph hops at around 500-750ft, using runways of around 400ft powered by engines running at 20dB quieter than current conventional jet engines. The company is keen to push this combination as the ideal for a flying taxi service and the BBC is happy to oblige. Avcen managing director Mike Dacre told the Beeb: "Jetpods are meant to be a workhorse, a taxi cab in the air, for on-demand free-roaming traffic." He says that a Jetpod could make the trip from Woking in Surrey to central London in a mere four minutes. The fact that it can make such swift progress - and therefore so many flights - would slash the fare for the flying commuter. Dacre claims that a jaunt from Heathrow to London could set you back as little as 40 or 50 quid.

All well and good, but Avcen only has sufficient funding to take the project to testing stage, and will require more cash to get thing thing properly off the ground. Which is where the trouble really starts, in our opinion. In the past readers have shot down the flying car idea on the not unreasonable grounds that if the average motorist cannot control a car which is (usually) pinned to the ground by gravity, how on earth can he or she be expected to adequately handle a 350mph flying SUV? In the case of the Jetpod taxi, we have the additional chilling prospect that they will presumably be piloted by London cabbies who to a man have a penchant for sudden unindicated stops, cursory u-turns and "creative" pathfinding. We can imagine a conversation between a bewildered commuter and Captain Cabbie during a four-minute flight from Heathrow to Central London, as follows:

Commuter: "I'm sorry, but isn't that Luton down there?"
Cabbie: "Yeah mate. I had to detour to avoid the traffic in West London. Bloody murder at this time of day."
Commuter: "I hope the meter isn't running..."
Cabbie: "Listen mate, I can't be blamed if they've got roadworks at Hyde Park Corner. It won't be more than an extra 200 quid. Did I tell you I had that Richard Branson in the back of the cab a couple of weeks back? Diamond geezer..." ®

Jetpod specs

  • Super noise attenuated quiet (Q) thrust
  • A reduction of up to two chapters (or stages) of jet noise
  • 125 metres take-off and landing distance
  • Unique horizontal and vertical thrust management
  • 300 kts high-speed cruise
  • Built for multiple daily sectors
  • Very rugged tricycle undercarriage with dual wheeled bogeys
  • Wide rear clamshell doors with walk/run-in foot-ramp
  • All round safety redundancy
  • Non-pressurized
  • Single pilot IFR capable but designed primarily with VFR in mind
  • Wide-bodied fuselage with high cabin ceiling and recessed foot-well
  • Standard synthetic terrain-mapping display
  • Warm-surface anti-icing
  • Full reverse thrust
  • Twin-engined, high-thrust safety
  • Lightweight instrument T-Pack - all EFIS display
  • Side-stick flight controls
  • Extra-large passenger windows for viewing and increased ambient light
  • Spacious 6-seat layout, including pilot
  • Standard external overhead camera to monitor traffic and view engines
  • Bird impact tested
  • Engine intake bird impact and debris protectors
  • Excellent front, overhead and through floor viewing for pilot(s)

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