The last time a flying car had a shot at making an impact was in 1956, when the precursor to the FAA deemed the iconic Taylor Areocar safe for flight. Even without tangled masses of red tape holding it back, Moulton Taylor's dream machine never saw large-scale manufacture. Today, its spiritual successor, the Maverick Sport, might just stand a chance.
The craft has recently received endorsements from authorities of both road and sky, meaning that the classic retrofuturistic dream of a dual-mode flying car is well within grasp. Logan Ward reports for Popular Mechanics:
On September 28, 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Light Sport Aircraft certificate for the Maverick Sport, the latest version of the flying dune buggy developed by Steve Saint and his crew at the Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (ITEC). Last June, the vehicle received a license plate from the Florida Department of Transportation.
This means what it sounds like it means: that the Maverick Sport is a street-legal, air-legal vehicle. So, how'd the Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (I-TEC) guide their creation through the narrow, winding halls of state and federal transportation institutions? Quite cleverly:
Rather than seek Federal Highway Administration certification for their vehicle—a process that requires boatloads of money for crash tests, among other things—they've designed it as a kit car. These can be licensed in most states...And as far as the FAA is concerned, the Maverick Sport is officially a powered parachute. The Sport Pilot license required to fly it is much easier to obtain than a standard pilot's license.
For the first certified Maverick's vanity plate, "FLY CAR" seemed an appropriate choice.
As for the hardware, it's a lithe, 900lb vehicle reminiscent of a dune buggy. Its creators say that it can accelerate from 0-60 in under four seconds, though its airspeed is limited to 40MPH. Its flight feature depends on a large, stowable glider wing and a rear-mounted propellor for thrust. The Maverick Sport should be available for purchase in time for AirVenture 2011, a yearly air show held in July. The price? A cool 80 grand.
As you could have guessed, the Maverick Sport has a unusual creation story. The mastermind of the project, a missionary named Steve Saint, created the Maverick not to indulge some kind of sci-fi whim, but to solve practical transportation problems in the developing world. From CNN:
"What we're doing here at I-Tec is we're reinventing the technology so it fits the people so that they don't have to become like us," Saint said. "And it's taken a while. I retired from business 16 years ago, and people don't pay you to do this, and my wife Ginny and I just decided, 'hey let's do this.'"
The Maverick flying car is just one piece of the puzzle for I-Tec. "We've been working on this particular project for six years," Saint said. "But it's just one, the bigger thing that we do is developing health care technology and tools and training systems so that we can train people that live out in the jungle areas, that don't have any formal education, and don't have access to doctors or nurses or midwives, or optometrists, or dentists, teaching them how to take care of these needs for their own people. That's really what we're doing."
The achievement of Saint's ultimate altruistic goals will involve first commercializing the product in markets like North America and Western Europe. (Scale will be the key to driving costs down for emerging markets, he says.) The technology is new and its legal use is heavily caveated, but Saint is optimistic, and sees the Maverick's potential uses as extremely diverse, from security to recreation to search and rescue.
It's tough to envision such wide use while the glider car is at an $80,000 price point, but it wouldn't take much of a reduction to turn this into an attainable tool--or toy--for countless individuals and organizations.
I mean, really, it's a flying car. It'll sell itself.