A rendering of the Embry-Riddle personal air vehicle (PAV-ER). (Courtesy of Mario Merino)

The Flying Car Becomes a Reality

The promise of flying cars has been “right around the corner” since we watched George Jetson commute to work in his “aerocar” in the 1960s.

Finally, it looks like that promise may be kept, and it could be in the form of a personal air vehicle (PAV) designed by a team from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that will make high-flying commutes a quiet, safe, energy-efficient breeze.

Several nascent aviation companies with prototype flying cars or PAVs are in the initial stages of flight testing, but they face steep technological, safety and regulatory hurdles. That’s where Embry-Riddle’s Richard “Pat” Anderson, director of the Eagle Flight Research Center (EFRC), and his faculty and student teams boast a big head start. They have been working toward this goal since 2011, when the EFRC’s EcoEagle, a hybrid electric prototype motor-glider, took flight as one of four finalists in the Google-NASA Green Flight Challenge.

The EFRC team’s progress toward creating a Jetson aerocar-like PAV has included the development of the battery-powered eSpirit of St. Louis — a lightweight, 70-foot wingspan, student-designed and modified Diamond HK-36 aircraft, which will demonstrate the promise of clean, quiet flight. 

Concurrent research, design and flight of the EFRC’s Heurobotics computer-controlled hybrid aircraft called the Mark II has been another technological breakthrough that will support the development of a personal flying vehicle. Featuring a mechanically simple 10-foot-wide airframe with two fully articulating rotor heads, the highly intelligent, stable and maneuverable Mark II lifts off vertically like a helicopter, leans to a 90-degree angle and flies horizontally like an airplane. 

Federal Aviation Administration directives overhauling airworthiness standards for small aircraft are also fueling public and researcher interest in developing PAVs. The new provisions allow innovative aircraft design teams like the EFRC to take advantage of performance-based industry standards in place of “prescriptive” manufacturing methods that have long hindered the development of new designs and technologies.

Anderson’s prototype personal flying vehicle design and build team, led by research engineer Borja Martos, is moving rapidly, having built and tested the proof-of-concept eight rotor “On-Demand Mobility” PAV this summer.

Martos’ team has many aerospace giants to call upon for support. Embry-Riddle belongs to the Hybrid Electric Research Consortium, which includes Airbus, Boeing, GE Aviation, Hartzell, Argonne National Laboratory, Rolls-Royce and Textron Aviation.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 edition of ResearchER magazine (Vol. 1, No. 2). The ResearchER archives can be found on Scholarly Commons.

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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.