Sure, you can get a high-tech sports car or a funky-looking motorcycle. That's relatively easy. But making those things fly is a different matter altogether. When it's time to take off, the PAL-V has it covered. To transition the PAL-V One to the air, you simply have to fold out a small tail section, which in turns raises a rotor above the passenger cabin. Using a rotor instead of full-on wings is how the PAL-V solves the problem of fixed or folding wings — with the former taking up too much space on the ground and the latter being too weak in the air. Because of this, the PAL-V is closer to a helicopter than it is to a plane [source: PAL-V Flying].
However, though the PAL-V looks like a helicopter, it can't take off vertically. It needs 540 feet (165 meters) of runway to take off and 100 feet (30 meters) of runway to come in for a landing. In the air, its fuel economy drops to 9.5 gallons per hour (36 liters per hour), and it can only fly up to 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) high, but that's plenty high enough to avoid traffic jams, Another bit of good news: you don't need a traditional pilot's license to fly it, though many regions will require you to have a sport pilot's certificate. Of course, we've seen how unsafe cars can be on the road, and taking one up 4,000 feet is enough to unnerve some drivers. If your car breaks down, you just have to make it to the shoulder. When you break down in the air, you're going to cover the 4,000 feet to the ground very rapidly. However, because of its design, the PAL-V One can maintain lift even if the engine stalls, because its rotor will keep spinning. It likely won't be the smoothest landing, but any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
If you want your own PAL-V One, you'll not only need to have a big check ready, you'll also need to get in line. Right now, they're only being sold in the Netherlands, and the PAL-V company is only able to make about 150 vehicles per year, with deliveries starting in 2016. Until then, you can either learn to enjoy traffic or just give up and take the train — where you can stream old episodes of "The Jetsons" and dream about your very own flying car.
Author's Note: How the Personal Air and Land Vehicle (PAL-V) Works
I was sitting in traffic the night before this article was due, cursing the fact that I didn't have a PAL-V so I could fly home and finish writing it. Then again, I was sitting in traffic in Boston, and giving Boston drivers flying cars does not seem like the safest idea. Though the PAL-V One can't hold the entire Jetson family, and flying cars really don't make much sense for most people, the fact that materials science, aviation and automotive design have come together in one (very expensive) package is just fascinating.
- Brown, Stuart F. "Why We're Not Driving the Friendly Skies." The New York Times. Aug. 22, 2014. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/automobiles/why-were-not-driving-the-friendly-skies.html
- Kennedy, George. "Pal-V One is Part Gyrocopter, Part Motorcycle, All Awesome." Yahoo! Autos. July 2, 2014. (Jan. 5, 2015) https://autos.yahoo.com/news/pal-v-one-is-part-gyrocopter—part-motorcycle—all-awesome—video-184739125.html
- PAL-V. "From Flying to Driving and Back: Smooth and Easy Transformation from Airplane to Car." 2014. (Nov. 5, 2014) http://pal-v.com/the-pal-v-one/transformation/
- PAL-V. "PAL-V One Target Specifications: A Pleasure to Fly and a Thrill to Drive." 2014. (Nov. 5, 2014) http://pal-v.com/the-pal-v-one/specifications/
- PAL-V. "The PAL-V One: Ultimate Freedom." 2014. (Nov. 5, 2014) http://pal-v.com/the-pal-v-one/
- Wysocky, Ken. "PAL-V One Takes to the Skies — For a Price." BBC Autos. May 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20140516-how-much-for-a-flying-car