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dream machine by dan maccosh

Dear Sirs -- Ever since I read about the Army's Flying Jeep program of the early '60s, I have been fascinated by the prospect of a "flying car". But Dan McCosh's article on Paul Moller's M400 Skycar, "Dream Machine," is a bit too good to be true.

Ease of Flying: McCosh states that the Skycar's control system "should make it as easy to fly as driving a car", despite the fact that this is a high-performance, multi-engine VTOL aircraft supposedly capable of speeds up to 350 mph. (Has McCosh driven on a highway lately and seen how poorly a lot of people do handling cars at 70 mph on a straight and level surface?) It is doubtful that anyone with less than a multi-engine helicopter rating would be allowed to fly the M400, not the unskilled pilot Moller seeks.

Affordability: McCosh also states that "volume production of the engine and airframe" will keep costs low. How low, Dan? You won't be able to touch an M400 for at least $250,000, no matter how many they make (if Moller builds 50 a year he'll be lucky, and my guess is that they'll cost at least $1 million a pop). That doesn't include the high cost of fuel, insurance and maintenance (a complete overhaul every 1000 hours should drive the cost of flying the M400 to at least $100 an hour).

Am I being too harsh? Hell, even if the Skycar couldn't fly it would probably cost over $250,000; it's got eight Wankel engines, for God's sake! Now check out the cost of a new Robinson R-22 helicopter, with only one aircooled engine. This aircraft is the most popular helicopter on the market and has been built for years. Yet it still costs $161,000 and an estimated $71 an hour to operate.

Safety: There were two problems with the original Flying Jeep. First, it was so stable it was difficult to get it to fly forward. Second, because the rotors were ducted, it was incapable of auto-gyrating like a helicopter if the power failed. The Army was considering a parachute system, but this was never tested. This would appear to be a problem shared by the M400.

The American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in Pennsylvania has a Piasecki VZ-8P AirGeep on display. You can see a picture of it with a brief description on their website

Sincerely, edac2
March 1, 2000

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