What seemed to be yet another fantasy flying vehicle may have moved closer to reality this week when a test version of the three-wheeler PAL-V One took off publicly in Holland.
Accelerating just some 500 feet along the A1 highway near the city of Amersfoort, the three-wheeler took off easily in front of the Dutch Minister of Traffic Safety and Water Affairs, Camiel Eurlings, and a massive group of curious journalists.
According to the Digital Journal, many had hoped to see a real prototype of the flying-and-driving vehicle, which is aimed at consumers. What actually took off was a proof-of-concept vehicle, to show that the tiny three-wheeler could both drive and fly for real, which it apparently could.
On the other hand, as the autogyro technology it's based on was invented in 1919 by the Spaniard Juan de la Cierva, and flew for the first time in 1923, this was no hugely sensational news. Minister Eurlings, whose ministry is involved in the project, also said that despite some people's hopes, the vehicle would not be a solution to traffic congestion, but a possible alternative to helicopters for emergency services.
PAL-V Europe, the company developing the three-wheeler, still describes it as the "first Personal Air and Land Vehicle (PAL-V) available for anybody."
The inventor, John Bakker, has spent six years on its design, which basically combines a patented three-wheeled, self-balancing hybrid motorcycle-car from the Dutch company Carver with an autogyro.
The autogyro technology in itself makes flying possible through a free-spinning rotor, using a separate propeller for pushing it. It's considerably more silent than a helicopter and much easier to fly. A kind of pilot's license is still required.
On the PAL-V One, the rotor can be folded on top of the roof when the vehicle is used for driving, permitting speeds up to 120 mph on the ground. The same top speed should be possible when flying, while cruising speed would be 90 mph and the flying range 280 miles.
According to PAL-V Europe, the typical flight altitude will be 4,000 feet, which means the vehicle can be operated without filing a flight plan.
While Bakker depicts a scenario of ordinary people flying the PAL-V One in safe and controlled highways in the air with the assistance of GPS navigators, Holland's Radio 1 News editor Van de Wiel wasn't so optimistic after the demonstration. "End of subject (...) I was right, nothing will ever come out of this," he writes in his blog.