Drivin' Through - August 2007

Flights of Fancy?
By Stefan Budricks, Editor

Preparations for the fall convention season are clearly underway. Advertising for the various trade shows has started to appear in the industry magazines. The Western Carwash Association’s advertisement contains an arresting illustration under the headline “Exploring the Future” and the question, “What Lies Ahead for Your Car Wash?” The image is of a pair of hands readying to grasp a crystal ball from which a flying car departs.

Too far out? A depiction that is better suited to a Jetson’s episode on the Cartoon Network? Perhaps not. A drive/fly vehicle already exists in concept, and efforts are underway to bring this vehicle to market. Known as the PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle), this unique form of transportation was developed in the Netherlands, and construction on the first commercial prototype is currently underway.

The PAL-V combines gyrocopter and Dynamic Vehicle Control (DVC™) tilting technology. Whereas a helicopter works by forcing rotor blades through the air and pushing air downwards, the gyrocopter rotor blade generates lift in the same way as a glider’s wing, by changing the angle of the air as it moves upwards and backwards relative to the rotor blade. A separate propeller provides forward thrust. In drive mode, the rotor is folded and fixed above the roof of the vehicle, while the propeller is folded and covered by the tail that slides forward — much like a convertible’s automatic hard top is folded away. The DVC system automatically adjusts the tilt angle of the cockpit to the speed and acceleration of the vehicle enabling a plane-like tilting before cornering.

Aside from the technological breakthroughs, the developers cite several other occurrences that have made the “flying car” today’s reality. Since 2004 in the United States and 2005 in Europe, new regulations allow people to fly the PAL-V with a simple sports aviation license, which takes from 15 to 25 hours to earn. For the driving (land) aspect, a regular driver’s license will suffice. Then there is “Highway In The Sky” (HITS), a program being developed in the United States to allow extensive personal air traffic. It will create “digital highways” that provide easy and safe corridors using GPS technology to aid in regulation and prevent the collision of low-flying vehicles. In Europe, a copy of this system is being initiated.

The PAL-V flies under the 4,000 feet floor of commercial air space. Like a helicopter, it has a “very short take off and vertical landing” capability, allowing it to land practically anywhere. Unlike a helicopter, though, it is relatively quiet, producing less than 70 decibels. The flying car is highly fuel-efficient, and runs on gasoline, bio-diesel or bio-ethanol. It can reach speeds of up to 125 mph both on land and in the air. You can see and read more about this drive/fly vehicle at www.PAL-V.com.

When exactly one of these flying cars will drop in (literally) at your car wash for a cleansing is unknown, but if you run a conveyor wash, you might experience some difficulties. The PAL-V is a three-wheeler, so a front-wheel pull conveyor will not do — and without some guidance for that solitary front wheel, even a rear-wheel push might come up short. If you cringe at the thought of having to replace yet another antenna, can you imagine the catastrophe if this contraption’s rotor for some reason became unfolded halfway down the conveyor?

For now, the best that can be said for the flying car is that it can be steered and will gradually descend vertically even if the engine fails. A safe landing — that’s what everybody wants.

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