The bullet-shaped PAL-V, which looks like it sprang fully formed from the head of Ian Fleming, is the latest attempt to breed a mythical mutt: the flying car. It’s a very different animal than the Transition, from US-based Terrafugia, and the Slovakia-made Aeromobil, both of which feature extendable fixed wings.
Made by PAL-V Europe NV, based in Raamsdonksveer in the Netherlands, the PAL-V (which stands for Personal Air and Land Vehicle) uses an autogyro flight system, with a 230-horsepower gasoline engine spinning a rear-facing propeller and an auto-rotating, retractable main rotor to generate lift.
Two breakthroughs helped PAL-V Europe fulfill its James Bond-ian ambitions: the increased availability of cutting-edge composite materials, which enabled designers to fashion a craft light enough to fly yet strong enough for the rigors of road use; and a mechanical-hydraulic articulated rear suspension (licensed by Dutch-based Carver Technology), which enables the craft to lean into turns like a motorcycle – boosting stability despite a high centre of gravity.
“Before this technology, a three-wheeled car with a high centre of gravity couldn’t drive safely,” says Robert Dingemanse, chief executive officer of PAL-V Europe.
The PAL-V’s top speed – in the air or on the ground – is 112mph. In car guise, the PAL-V returns a manufacturer-claimed 28mpg, with a cruising range of 750 miles; as an autogyro, consumption is 9.5 gallons per hour, with a flying range of up to 315 miles. Converting the vehicle from one mode to the other (demonstrated in the video below) takes 10 minutes.
Alas, the PAL-V cannot magically fly out of a traffic jam; it requires 540ft of runway to take off and 100ft to land. But it flies below 4,000ft, so interfering with commercial air traffic is not an issue. As for safety, the PAL-V cannot stall like fixed-wing aircraft (though it can’t hover or take off vertically like a helicopter, either). If the engine fails, the craft still can land safely thanks to the lift generated by its auto-rotating main rotor.
Dingemanse says the company currently is taking orders only from customers in the Netherlands; he expects the company to accept international orders this fall. While he wouldn’t disclose how many orders the company has received to date, Dingemanse says the first PAL-Vs will be delivered in 2016, with a maximum production capability of 150 units per year for the first two or three years. “We want to be on the safe side and carefully control production,” he says.
As always, freedom isn’t free; the PAL-V One commands a cool $395,000. For that not-inconsiderable sum, you could fly a new Cessna 172 single-engine airplane or drive a Lamborghini Aventador. But the PAL-V does both.
Dingemanse expects a wide range of customers, ranging from the usual cowboy-astronaut-millionaire to police departments and border-patrol agencies. “We’ve even been approached by mine operators in India and Australia who are looking for a more cost-effective way to transport employees to and from mines,” he says. “When new technology gets in the hands of creative people, they’ll find uses for it that we can’t even imagine.”
For the price, you could fly a new Cessna 172 single-engine airplane or drive a Lamborghini Aventador. But the PAL-V does both.