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Air taxi has a Moller-coaster ride
Submitted by SuperUser on Saturday, March 24, 2001 - 12:00am

Air taxi has a Moller-coaster ride First Published: The Sydney Morning Herald Friday, March 23, 2001

Twenty-five years and millions of dollars after the Skycar was conceived, the project is still not off the ground.
Dr Paul Moller has a vision: people escaping the hassles of ground transport by taking to the air in fully automated, satellite-navigated, vertical take-off Skycars.
The occupants would give their destination to a voice-activated satnav system and the Skycar would deliver them at speeds of 600km/h and altitudes of 2,000 metres, automatically avoiding the other Skycar traffic.
But the reality is a long way from the vision. It is probably appropriate that the Skycar is in Australia for this weekend's Big Boys Toys exhibition rather than the Sydney Motor Show.
Moller (pictured with the Skycar) has a massive task. He even adapted Wankel automotive rotary engines for Skycar use - it has eight.
Two new developments may get the project off the ground. Moller is organising a public float of his company and this week sees ground testing of the vertical take-off vehicle and its engines at his base in Davis, California.
The appearance of the M200 Skycar (it's actually a two-seater display model, not a flying version) at the Sydney Exhibition Centre is part of a promotional tour with fundraising in mind.
Six Skycar prototypes have been built and short flights carried out - generally, as a safety back-up, they were tethered to a high crane.
Moller aims to have the four-seater M400 doing "lift-off" tests in about six weeks - and flying, untethered and publicly, by the end of the year.
Single-rotor Wankels have been used to date. The next step "which will require a great deal of capital" will be to develop more powerful twin-rotor versions to provide lift for a four-passenger vehicle.
But forget about images of a George Jetson lifestyle, with a Skycar on the drive to whisk the family away.
"People are now beginning to believe there must be an alternative in transportation," says Moller, envisaging the Skycar as an aerial taxi for those distances that are long in a conventional car but short and uneconomic hops in conventional aircraft.
Single-, two-, four- and six-seater versions of the Skycar are planned, and people would book one in much the same way as they book a cab now, specifying the number of passengers.
The engines and their counter-rotating propellers are housed in each nacelle (those things that look like jet engine covers). A computer balances the engine throttles to fly the Skycar and adjusts the vanes behind the propellers that make it hover.
The Canadian-born Moller, 63, a former university lecturer in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, built his first helicopter at 14.
The Skycar project evolved through "about five generations" of vertical take-off vehicles. Moller calculates he has spent about $US150 million (about $305 million) so far. Compared with other aeronautical projects, he says, the amount is miniscule.
Popular Mechanics magazine predicted in 1991 that the Skycar would be flying by the end of the year. The same predictions are still being made.
Car - or pie - in the sky? Wait until the end of the year. At least.

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