[personal profile] firebreath613
I finally got my copy of my Moller Skycar story in the British car magazine Intersection (From Dec. '07/Jan '07). I am disappointed to learn that they didn't run my final draft, which I re-wrote top to bottom, and was more awesome than this version. Ah well.

If you click on "Get Original Uploaded Photo" in this gallery, you can read the story on the pages


I think this is the text you see here:

By Lisa Hix

The new millennium has been such a disappointment – this wasn't the future we were envisioning. Where are the robot servants cooking all our meals and cleaning our houses? Where are the teleporter machines? Where are the cool hover cars that can zoom down sides of buildings?

One cock-eyed dreamer hasn't given up on the concept of flying cars, although he prefers to call them rotable aircrafts, he sees them as the way of the future. He talks about a sky highway filled with his automated Skycars.

Alas, those awesome hover cars from Bladerunner, The Minority Report and Back to the Future are still scientific impossibilities, explained Dr. Paul Moller.

"The cars in Bladerunner and some of those other ones they were really theoretically flying cars, and yeah, give me controlled fusion, give me anti-gravity, and I'll do everything they do in those films," he says. "But short of that, I've got to live with the laws of physics, and they really constrain me."

Of course, the laws of physics are constraining him on other projects, too, Moller – a Ph.D. in mechanical and aeronautical engineering working in Davis, California – has spent 45 years of his life and $200 million dollars developing the next best thing: A rotable aircraft that can take off and land vertically, which he refers to as a volantor. Currently, Moller has exactly two volantor prototypes in his showroom – the red Batmobile-esque M400 Skycar and the flying-saucer shaped M200 Jetson -- and neither one has been tested at high speeds, significant heights or long distances. For insurance purposes, Moller says, he only flies the machines attached to a crane via a tether.

For the company that' claims to developing the way of the future, the Moller International headquarters in Davis, California, is surprisingly retro: located inside a '60s redwood-paneled office park, the office looks like it hasn't seen new furniture or a new coat of paint since the early '80s.

But Paul Moller himself is remarkably well-preserved for a 70-year-old, with highlighted brown hair and a face that could pass for man in his 50s. While Moller jokes that he's looking into life extension so he can live see his Skycar succeed, he seriously gets hair strand and hormone tests every six months to see what nutrients his body is deficient in. Inspired by famous psychic Edgar Cayce's words about the healing power of almonds, Moller launched a side business called Quail Oaks Ranch, selling organic almond butter, which Owen Wilson orders by the case.

Even though his other earlier prototypes and current two-person M200X, "The Jetson," resembles George's famous flying vehicle, Moller insists he wasn't inspired by science fiction at all. He takes more of his inspiration from "a sense of envy of the hummingbird's mobility." Growing up in rural Canada, walking to school in two-foot snowdrifts "convinced me there must be a better way to get around." Helping some hummingbirds that were trapped in their barn and, "and as I let them go, they kind hovered instantaneously and then (chute!) disappeared."

Going to trade school in Calgary, Alberta, in the '50s, Moller started out working on propulsion systems inspired by reports of UFO sightings. He took a job at Canadair making de-icing machines, and he monitored graduated-level courses at McGill University in Montreal until he impressed a professor enough to get recommended for graduate school. Never mind that Moller never attended an undergraduate level class: He finished his Ph.D. in two years while concurrently developing vertical takeoff aircrafts. In the early '60s, he came to Davis, California, to work as a professor at the University of Californica, and eventually, Moller taught a course there called "The Social and Technical Implications of UFOs," a topic on which published about in American Engineering Magazine.

"UFOs didn't strike me as science fiction because I've had a lot of people who talked to me personally, people whom I trusted, people who clearly were not crackpots, I assure you," he explains. "I did a serious study of the physiological effects of these so-called sightings, with the view in mind if I could correlate the physiological effects on humans, I might be able to get a little insight into how they work. If they have some sort of propulsion system that causes funny things to happen to people, then you do a kind of reverse engineering and say, 'What the hell can cause these kind of funny sensations in people?' And I had a long list of interesting phenomena which I was able to correlate and get a very good handle on the way the propulsion systems work. Again, I need controlled fusion, and undoubtedly, if these UFOs are flying around, they have something like that -- or anti-gravity. Let's put it this way: There's nothing they're doing that I could do."

But while we're waiting for science to master controlled fusion, Moller International announced this summer that it was going to put the M200 Jetson into production as a ground-effects vehicle, only flown 10 feet off the ground so it doesn't required FAA certification, possibly priced around $90,000. Press material says that 450 M200s will be produced.

"Is it practical in that form?" Moller says. "Depends on what you're using it for, yacht to shore, ship to shore, marine applications, flying it 10 feet off the ground without a pilot's license. That's an attractive possibility of a utilitarian recreational vehicle."

However, FAA approval and production of these personal air vehicles has been "right around the corner" for a long time. In 1974, Moller's Discojet Corporation offered that an early version of the Jetson that promotional material claimed would cost $100,00 once production reached 75,000. The 1974 brochure also stated FAA testing would begin soon. In 1999, Moller was interviewed saying the M400 Skycar would hit the market in "two years." An article in 1998 stated the engine manufacturing was supposed to start that year, with FAA certification happening in 2000.

Despite all his missed deadlines, Moller has managed to fund his dreams through a little bit of business savvy. In the '60s he bought a tract of land and developed it into an office park – where Moller International is still located – and he put the $20 million he made from the sale back into the Skycar. Then, while working on how to quiet the volantors' engines, he created a high-performance muffler, known as the SuperTrapp, which are now found on the majority of motorcycles and racecars. He made $20 million before he sold that company to Dreison International of Cleveland for $3.5 million in 1988. In 1985, he bought the rights to the Wankel rotary engine design and turned it into a motor called Rotapower, which worked out to suit personal watercraft as well as volantors. He sells these engines through a company called Freedom Motors. Now he's working on developing a series hybrid engine for a plug-in car, which Moller says, will be sold to a major U.S. auto manufacturer. This year, Moller announced they'd developed a breakthrough engine that runs on water and ethanol.

But his big vision is a sky highway filled with M400s. The Skycar, isn't really a "flying car" per se, it's a light plane that can seat up to four – which, he explains, falls in a whole new Federal Aviation Administration category called "power lift" – with Moller's patented take on the Wankel rotary engine. The engines tilt, so the Skycar lifts up, burning a load of fuel for a short period of time, then – in theory -- zooms off like an airplane. The wings fold down when flying, and up when driving, so the Skycar fits on the street. Moller likes to give stats and numbers: On the ground, it only goes 35 miles per hour, but in the air, it can reach a speed of 300 miles per hour. It runs on ethanol, but can be adapted for biodiesel.

However, all of these claims have been called into question. How could a Skycar reach 300 mph on a tether? Some question whether the Skycar can do anything more than take off and land, and whether it even has the lift to carry four people. Moller's been accused of being a master con artist who fools the media as well as his 400 investors, as the stock price, which was once as high $8.25, sank to $0.96, and company runs at a $2 million loss.

In 2003, a Security Exchange Commission complaint stated that Moller International, which went public in 2002, "fueled investor interest through materially false and misleading statements about the company's imminent listing on the New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE") and the Nasdaq Stock Market, the projected value of MI shares after such listing and the prospect for product sales and revenue." The complaint also stated that "Moller projected that 10,000 Skycars would be sold by the end of 2002. In reality, the Skycar was and still is a very early developmental-stage prototype that has no meaning flight testing, proof of aeronautical feasibility, or proven commercial viability." Moller paid a $50,000 fee to settle this complaint.

Believe it or not, one of his high-flying dreams isn't so out of reach. Moller talks quiet animatedly about a Highway in the Sky (HITS). His vision involves dividing the atmosphere into 250-foot layers, every layer going a different direction or vector, each layer representing a 30-degree vector change. "If you've got that, you can always go from Point A to Point B with one change along the route," he says. "One vector change along that route that would give you the complete flexibility to go almost anywhere. "

The whole messy pilot's license business can be avoided, he says, because the Skycars will drive themselves. "There's a world where you're going to be a passenger; you're not going to be a pilot," he says. "You're going to leave Davis and go to San Francisco, you just get on board and it's going to deliver you there" – a 60-minute car trip reduced to 15 minutes. "You sleep, you play computer games, you read, you do something else, you work. That time becomes a very useful part of your life."

In his vision, commuters would drive their Skycars to neighbor "vertiports" to take off, "if you can't take off from your home," Moller says. "At some point, I think people with flat-roof houses will be able to use their roof as the garage."

This is possible, Moller says, because of the accuracy of GPS systems, when it comes calibrating WAAS (or Wide Area Augmentation System) and LAAS (Local Area Augmentation System), so that air vehicles can be carefully monitored.

Even if Moller's vision seems out there, NASA at least is working on a concept called the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), that's pondering the infrastructure and the sort of vehicles that would cruise a sky highway, but perhaps not the Skycar.

Don't get your hopes up for a Jetsons future yet. Les Dorr, spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, says Moller's vision of the sky highway is not something the U.S. government is actively look into.

"Right now, this sounds more akin to science fiction, but as we know from the past, science fiction has a way of becoming a reality," Dorr says. "Really, it all depends on if there's a demand from the market. We don't want to hinder commerce. If they're talking about altitudes where they'll be interacting with aircrafts, that's a whole different situation."

And Moller was not encouraged by the response he got from Congress in the '90s when he, the head of NASA at the time, Daniel Goldin, and other experts testified about the future of aviation in the U.S.

"When we walked out that meeting, as a collective unit we all agreed that the only way that these guys are going to wake up is when the highway system really does stop," he says.
The Skycar, which currently seats four passengers although it can be designed for six, can't go out in severe weather conditions, although it's far more stable in the wind than regular light recreational aircrafts, and it can fly low to the ground and land on any open space. In the unlikely chance you do have an accident at a high altitude, it's probably all over for you.
Cost-wise, the M400 costs as much as its cousin the helicopter, about $500,000, but could be dropped to less than $100,000 if 100,000 are manufactured. There's a waiting list with more than 100 reservations for FAA certified models, which could be available in as little as four years, depending on the speed of the government certifying process. "These are people who buy Ferraris," Moller says. "If they're going to buy it, they're going to pay up."

"Dr. Daniel Goldin said about 25 percent of Americans will have access to this vehicle within 10 years," Moller says. "That doesn't mean you'll own it. That might mean you lease it or you use it as an air taxi to an airport, but you'll have access to it. And he said 90 percent of the American population will have access to it in 25 years. That first number is a little optimistic I think, that second number is I'm really confident is true. But, boy, if national priorities change those could happen pretty quick. Because if you can take over 50 percent of people off the highway today, you should do a lot for the highway system. Ten years from now, you still got problems."

"Although I'm all for Moller's science-fiction vision of the future, I think he's only trying to solve the sexy problem, which is how to create a flying car. And it's a problem that's been solved before. It was solved in the '20s by Henry Ford who built the Sky Sliver. It was solved in the '50s by Molton Taylor who built a sky car, that you drug the wings behind the car in a trailer, it almost went into production, but never did. And now it's been sort of solved by Moller, but I don't know if the thing flies. It's a damn shame if it doesn't fly.

"The boring problem is the problem that NASA's been trying to solve. How do you make a flying car that someone's grandma could drive? And how can you integrate collision avoidance systems that people don't wreck into each other? Because human beings are not very good a driving cars, and we're even worse at flying airplanes. We'd kill ourselves in an instant."

"I guess that Moller's created a beautiful cherry-red version of the future that's just that, just a vision. It's a beautiful cherry-red work of art with vertical take-off and landing capabilities. I've never seen any evidence that the car flies."

He's been talking for so long and he's put such care into the aesthetic details of the Skycar, you kind of wonder if he's decided to settle for the vision. Normally with any sort of scientific endeavor, you get the thing working then you make it beautiful, not the other way around. You don't put the icing on the cake until the cake is finished. The fact it's so pretty it doesn't fly."
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