Before you write us off as flying-car-haters, let us explain. There are some logical and practical reasons that you may indeed not want a flying car. You just may not have thought about them yet. That's why we're here -- not to steer you away from the awesome possibilities that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Doc Brown introduced to us, but to give you a few tips why you may not want to go out and buy the first flying car, when and if they become available.
Flying is statistically safer than driving, but those stats may not translate to a new breed of flying cars. There will be new rules, additional driving and flying education, and not to mention you'll be flying with the same group of people you commute on the roads with today. A scary thought for many of us.
Flying cars may be in our near future, so why not consider a handful of the drawbacks these marvelous machines may give us? Our traditional cars can give us enough headaches as it is; cars that can fly won't be different, and may possibly be worse. Sure we may be able get to our destinations faster, but what if we have an accident or we run out of gas? It's not as easy to pull over when you're flying.
So while you may not think there's anything wrong with flying cars, you might want to check out our list of five reasons you might not want one.
Fasten your seatbelts and put your tray tables in their upright positions because as Doc Brown said, "Where we're going, we don't need roads."
We've all heard the statistics that flying is safer than driving. In 2007, there were 44 fatalities from airline accidents and about 44,000 from driving accidents [source: Thompson]. But statistics like that don't stop 40 percent of people from having some sort of anxiety when flying [source: Murphy]. That's a pretty high percentage of people considering the fact that all you have to do when you fly is sit in a chair for a prolonged period of time, read a book and sip on some bubbly or ginger ale.
Obviously it's the fact that you're up in the air that gets people a little anxious. If we're all in flying cars someday, then statistically 40 percent of us will have some sort of apprehension about it. That's a lot of people flying next to you that might let their mild flying phobia inhibit their ability to operate their aeronautical vehicle.
Think about the people you see on your daily commute. Think of all the people you see texting while driving, reading a newspaper, putting on makeup or irrationally swerving between lanes. Now imagine being next to them hundreds or thousands of feet up in the air. That's enough to bump the rest of us who don't get nervous when we fly right into that other 40 percent statistic. .
We know what you're thinking: If flying is safer than driving then won't flying a car through the air be safer than driving it on the roads? Probably not. Consider the extensive training that commercial pilots go through and safety checks that airplanes receive regularly to ensure safe flights. The Federal Aviation Administration has a 17 chapter manual called the "Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge" that covers everything from principles of aerodynamics, weight and balance, weather, navigation, aero-medical factors and decision-making while flying [source: FAA]. Pilots need to know all of these general rules of flying in addition to their knowledge of the aircraft their flying.
Even if we all have to take a class to learn how to fly cars, which we'll talk about later, the chances are we won't be as skilled as airline pilots and won't have as many safety checks before we take off as commercial planes do now. So it's doubtful that when millions of people are flying cars, the safety records will be as good as they are for present-day commercial and private flights.
Still want a flying car? We understand; just be ready to pay for it. Go on to the next page to find out how expensive flying cars will be.
A lot us of deep down really do want a flying car, but one of the main drawbacks to having your own will be the cost. Consider the following facts:
Flying cars might not be millions of dollars like the government project, but they definitely won't come cheap. The closest thing we have to flying cars right now is more like a plane that folds its wings up and drives like a car. The car-plane, developed by Terrafugia, has a price tag closer to $300,000 compared to the average cost of a new car which is about $30,000 [source: Welsh]. So you can imagine that if car companies start selling flying cars in the future, they'll be priced higher than most of us can afford.
Not only that, but if you're tired of filling up your car to go to work, you're not going to be much happier filling up a flying car either. Fuel costs for planes are more than the cost for cars [source: AirNav.com]. Even if we are able to fill up flying cars with regular unleaded gasoline, if you start running low on fuel in the air it's not like you can just pull into a station and fill up.
The cost of your car insurance is going to skyrocket, as well, because you're not just insuring a car anymore; you're insuring a car that can fly. Imagine paying for premium coverage because your car cannot only get into accidents, but also crash to the ground.
Now let's find out why you wouldn't want to break down in your flying car.
OK, so this particular reason why you don't want a flying car is pretty self-explanatory, but maybe we should go through some possible scenarios just to drive the point home.
Lots of us have been stranded on the side of the road at one time or another. Maybe your car overheated, you ran out of gas, got a flat tire or that weird sound you've been hearing for months but never did anything about actually turned into a major problem. When your car breaks down on the road, most people try to quickly maneuver it out of traffic and get it to a safe place away from everything else. Well if you break down in a flying car, the only option you have is to fall from the sky.
You're still not going to have some Good Samaritan help push the car to the side of the road. There won't be an option to pop the hood and diagnose the problem and you can't just get out and walk a few miles to get some more fuel. Gravity is going to have its way and its way is down. An object, ignoring air resistance, falls 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) in about 8 seconds [source: George]. So if you're 1,000 feet in the air and you have an accident, or your car just stops working, you better have a back up plan you can implement quickly.
Even if you can glide or use some sort of parachute, you're going to have to know how to land your car in an emergency. How much of a runway do you need? Can you just put in some trees? Are there houses around? Breaking down in a flying car seems like a huge hassle, not to mention a serious danger.
But if you're still set on owning a flying car, maybe you should go on to the next page to find out how hard it is to fly in bad weather.
Let's assume that if we all have flying cars, we're going to have some sort of aerial road system like in "Back to the Future Part II." We'll assume that there are on and off ramps, designated areas to fly and some sort of overall organization structure to how to get from point A to point B.
Maybe we won't have to worry about a bottleneck from an accident because the involved parties won't have the option to block our path, but we'll still have deal with bad weather messing up our commutes.
Imagine flying in your car and getting hit by a huge gust of wind. Your flying car will respond to wind differently than a car on the ground. Planes encounter different types of turbulence all the time [source: Williams]. But you may not be so used to it when you're the one flying. Depending on the air temperature it may be harder to take off and land your flying car too, since the air density can affect a plane's aerodynamics [source: NASA]. When the seasons change, the way your flying car performs will change, too.
Consider the fact you'll also be flying through thunderstorms from time to time. Imagine flying in the air during a wild lightning storm. It may look cool when you're on the ground, but it'll be pretty scary when you're flying right through it. Lightning regularly strikes airplanes [source: Williams]. Are you ready for lightning bolts to hit your car as your struggle to keep control of the wheel?
Another weather concern will be flying in heavy rain or fog. Flying in the air and not being able to see would be really disorienting. A set of fog lights and some Rain-X probably won't be as helpful up in the sky as it is on the ground. It's hard enough to stop on the pavement to avoid an accident, but what if you can't see through the fog and another flying car is just a few feet away?
Poor weather conditions can be difficult enough to manage in car with four wheels on the ground, let alone one that's up in the air. But that's not the worst of it. Go on to the next page to find out the main reason why you don't want a flying car.
Learning to fly even the smallest and simplest of planes requires going to flight school. Remember sitting in drivers ed and learning things like the average car travelling 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) will need about 272 feet (82.9 meters) in order to come to a complete stop? It may have been exciting at the time because we were all so close to getting a little taste of freedom, but after you've been driving for years, who wants to sit down and learn a whole new set of rules for flying in car? Because there will be lots of new rules.
If you and your neighbor start your flying car at the same time and want to lift off in front of your house, who goes first? When making a turn in a flying car do you have to look above and below you as well as left and right? How about learning an entirely new way to navigate to a destination? Sure we could set up a GPS system in the flying cars, but if your GPS can't find the satellites, then how do you know where to go?
Pilots learn how to fly without using their eyes to guide them. They rely on their instruments to tell them things like how high they are and what their speeds are [source: Wynbrandt]. Even though we use instruments for some of these things when we drive, we rely mostly on our eyes to see what's going on around us. But in the sky, you don't always have a good reference point. Factors like weather conditions or flying at night can make it impossible for pilots to use their sight to navigate the plane, so they rely on their instruments [source: Wynbrandt]. If you have a flying car you'll need to learn how rely on and trust your instruments more than your sight.
Think you still want a flying car? You can't say we didn't warn you.
For more information about flying cars and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
The electric car startup Faraday Future just introduced its first production vehicle, the FF 91, at CES 2017. Learn about the FF 91 at HowStuffWorks.
More Great Links
- AirNav.com. "Fuel Price Report." Sept. 15, 2011. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.airnav.com/fuel/report.html
- FAA. "Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge." 2008. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.faa.gov/library/manuals/aviation/pilot_handbook/media/PHAK%20-%20Cover-Preface.pdf
- George, Jeff. "Physics and Skydiving." NASA. May 2003. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/qa_gp_fm.html
- Murphy. Tim. "For Fear of Flying, Therapy Takes to the Skies." The New York Times. June 24, 2007. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/health/psychology/24fear.html
- NASA. "Air Properties Definitions." March 24, 2010. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://wright.nasa.gov/airplane/airprop.html
- New York Defensive Driving. "Physical Forces Influencing Driver Control." (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.newyorkdefensivedriving.com/course_sample.html?p=6
- Terrafugia. "Frequently Asked Questions." (Sept. 14, 2011) http://www.terrafugia.com/faq.html
- Thompson, Andrea. "Flying is Safer Than Ever." Live Science. June 1, 2009. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.livescience.com/5483-flying-safer.html
- Vanderbilt, Tom. "What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Flying Hummers." Feb. 7, 2011. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-01/what-could-possibly-go-wrong-flying-hummers
- Welsh, Jonathan. "New Car Prices Hit Record Highs in May." WSJ. June 3, 2011. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://blogs.wsj.com/drivers-seat/2011/06/03/new-car-prices-hit-record-highs-in-may/
- Williams, Jack. "Airplane Turbulence Isn't as Dangerous As It Might Seem." USA Today. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.usatoday.com/weather/wturbwht.htm
- Williams, Jack. "Does Lightning Hit Airplanes?" USA Today. June 1, 2004. (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/askjack/2003-05-06-lightning-airplanes_x.htm
- Wynbrandt, James. "Spatial Disorientation." Aug. 2004 (Sept. 16, 2011) http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa17.pdf