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GF7 car design could legally hit 550 mph – in the sky

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May 28, 2014

A group from California is designing a new super utility vehicle – a jet-powered flying ca...

A group from California is designing a new super utility vehicle – a jet-powered flying car

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Greg Brown and Dave Fawcett are working on an design that they hope will yield something we've spent decades waiting for – a flying jet-propelled car. A sleek cross between a business jet with a luxury automobile, the GF7 drives on electric motors while on the ground, then can extend wings and use a 3,500-lb thrust jet engine to fly to 38,000 ft (12,000 m) and speeds of 550 mph (885 km/h). The (obvious) catch: if this ambitious project does get of the ground, it won't come cheap.

One thing that 21st century life seems to lack is a good selection of flying cars. For those of us growing up in the 1960s, TV shows about life after the year 2000 featured wonderful inventions – space ships, pocket flip telephones, and of course flying cars. Here we are 50 years later and flying cars have yet to become a commercial reality. I’m not the only person who feels a little let down, and some of those people are hard at working designing real flying cars.

Gizmag has reported on other flying cars, like the Terrafugia Transistion, the Aeromobile, the amazing PAL-V gyroplane three-wheeler, and even the flying box-truck AT Transformer.

This latest venture really takes the concept into Gerry Anderson Supercar territory by inventing a jet-propelled flying car that would be capable of speeds over 550 mph in the air, and highway speeds on the ground. This effort is still at its early stages, and frankly, the concept is a very big reach, but we did want to share the team's progress with you.

The principles behind the project are designer Greg Brown, and engineer Dave Fawcett, who are based in Napa, California. Fawcett, of Airboss Aerospace, has engineered many aircraft, including the Viper, the Maverick and Javelin jets. The objective of the GF7 project is to create a four-passenger single-engine, reliable, and simple-to-operate flying car that can operate on both the freeways and the airways.

The short wings of the GF7 fold against the sides of the car on the ground

Brown told us in an interview that all flying cars are expensive. The team's betting that people who can afford one probably don’t want to be driving a go-cart with a super-light chassis and a small engine. So the pair have created a vehicle with the comforts of a luxury sedan, fast cruising speeds and full car performance. They decided to go all the way to a jet-propelled flying car with a turbine engine in the 3,500 pound thrust class (at 375 mph, one pound of thrust equals one horsepower).

The original vehicle concept was a two-seat, bubble canopy, tandem design (one seat behind the other), but Brown says no one liked the concept except fighter pilots like himself. The GF7 design has a basic folding wing, and is propelled on the ground by an all-electric 50 kWh battery pack that is recharged by the jet engine during flight. The anticipated road performance is 100 mph (160 km/h) top speed with a 0-60 mph time of 7-12 seconds, depending on fuel load.

Based on similar performance of electric vehicles they hope to reach 80-120 miles (129-193 km) of driving per charge, which should be adequate considering the myriad of small airports around metro areas. For those needing more distance driving, they did not rule out the possibility of installing a small auxiliary power unit to extend the driving range into the hundreds of miles. This eliminates the need for a separate, heavy internal combustion engine for ground operation.

The wheels and tires will retract into the fuselage in flight for streamlining. The delta wing span is 23 ft (7 m), which lends itself to high cruising airspeed while providing a smoother ride in turbulence, and with full span flaps provides a stable approach for landing. Twin vertical tails support a wide horizontal stabilizer in the back.

"The more we got into the systems the more we realized how complimentary they were," said Brown. "You can save jet fuel by using the electric motor to drive to the runway and start the turbine engine when you need it. The high torque electric motors assist the jet to accelerate for take-off reducing take-off roll – it will be like an afterburner take-off. Four wheels braking with large road tires reduces stopping distance, and the ample battery power makes for an excellent backup to support environmental and avionics systems in the air. To top it off, the turbine engine produces plenty of extra electrical capacity to charge the batteries."

The cabin of the GF7 seats four people

Brown told us that he and Austin Meyer, a software engineer and designer of the VP-400 and Xavian avionics, were seeking to make the aircraft as easy to operate as an iPhone, but still be a fully IFR (Instrument Flight Rules)-certified and pressurized at 8 PSI, allowing for cruising altitudes up to 39,000 ft (12,000 m).

“The GF7 is designed to get above [the FAA rule of] 10,000 feet and the 250 knot (450 km/h) speed restrictions quickly, then accelerate rapidly to 350 knots indicated airspeed, and stay fast all the way to the destination," Brown told us. "It’s about achieving high speed and connecting cities in a regional area such as San Jose, Las Vegas, and LA or Dallas, Houston, and Austin. The GF7 is designed for short legs, so we are targeting cruising altitudes below 28,000 ft (8,500 m)."

The GF7, despite its looks, is a conventional aircraft. It would need a runway 2,500 ft (760 m) long for takeoff and landing. Approach and landing speeds should be around 90-110 knots (166-203 km/h). Cruising speeds would be between 0.75 and 0.82 Mach, and 350 knots indicated airspeed, which equates to a true airspeed of 550 mph at 25,000 ft. Expected range on a full tank is 700-1,000 miles (up to 1,600 km), depending on the flight profile.

The team hopes to have a flying prototype completed in about four years. There is no getting around the estimated selling price, which will be between US$3-5 million. This price range is around that of other jet aircraft of similar capability, such as the Eclipse 550, which sells for around $2.9 million.

The GF7 Flying Car (or road-able aircraft) concept

Would there be a market for such a high end machine? First of all, the technical challenges of putting such a complex aircraft in a road-worthy package is daunting. Next, how do you get car insurance on a three-million-dollar vehicle? Other flying car teams, with the possible exception of those at Terrafugia, have fallen short in execution – and this jet-powered car will take a lot of capital investment to become a reality.

"The GF7 can increase the size of the region a person can influence in a day without the dependence on a team of support personnel," claimed Brown. "It saves time by flying fast and eliminating delays resulting from startup, shutdown, transferring to a ground vehicle and backtracking to a waiting airplane. With a GF7 there is no need for travel coordinators, or a staff of pilots and drivers at the ready. You don’t need to pay for airport services, a rental car, or aircraft tie-downs, which also means you can avoid busy airports."

"You can fly with jet reliability, over bad weather, and in leather-appointed luxury to airports with no services and have all the conveniences of a car when you get there," he continued. "For the private jet owner, when you want to fly your plane, you don’t have to spend a half-hour hauling your aircraft out of the hangar. You leave from your house and go to whatever airport you want and get airborne. Airports become high speed on/off ramps. The GF7 is about independence, and removing barriers to flight, in a fast, comfortable and reliable aircraft."

The developers suggest that their customers would emerge from the thousands of regional business managers who regularly travel between city clusters, and anyone who needs to operate at airports that don’t offer ground transportation.

Of course, it’s also for anyone who loves to fly ... and has deep pockets.

"We’re going to make an aircraft that delivers an amazing flying experience," enthused Brown.

About the Author
Francis X Govers III Francis Govers is the designer of over 20 land, sea, air and space vehicles and teaches robotics and the design of self-driving cars. He spent 10 years at NASA, helped design the International Space Station, participated in the DARPA Grand Challenge, and managed the only Zeppelin operating in the US. As a commercial pilot, writer, artist, musician, engineer, race car nut and designer, Francis has a serious addiction to building things that frequently gets him into trouble.   All articles by Francis X Govers III
21 Comments

I've always wondered why flying cars became anchored as the brass ring to one generation after another.

I understand the romanticised, dreamland aspect of flying direct from your origin to your destination, landing just short of where you need to be and bypassing all the B.S. of normal traffic but that never has and never will mesh with reality.

In reality no problem is solved, in fact I would say that problems would be added to two infrastructures that already have their own myriad problems.

If a flying car were actually produced the operator would not be able to land on any give road so they would still need to fly to the nearest airport to land. What would be the use at that point?

Imagine if flying cars made it to production:

If even a very small percentage (say 0.1%) of the light duty vehicles on the road in the U.S. (approximately 200,000,000) were replaced with flying cars there would be as many as 200,000 additional craft in the air on any given day.

Now look at the flip side (source for information: http://natca.org/legislative_congressional_testimony.aspx?zone=Congressional Testimony&nID=2873 )

From the report linked (2011) Air Traffic Control (ATC) handled approximately 70,000 daily flights across the U.S. with 15,500 Controllers.

How would 270,000 craft in the air be managed? Who would and how would all of the necessary flight corridors be maintained?

Rt1583
28th May, 2014 @ 08:15 pm PDT

Still have a pretty limited market - those who can lay out this much cash can usually afford to have plane/pilot/chauffeur on standby anyway.

Still,, the thought of firing up that jet and taking the paint off a tailgater's grill would be very tempting.

The Skud
28th May, 2014 @ 09:25 pm PDT

Rt1583 is absolutely correct. This causes far more problems than it solves. It'll be cheaper to buy a light aircraft. The only problems it solves is parking at the airport and getting your hire car/taxi at the other end. Imagine the dangers of drunken idiots trying to deploy on the freeway to show off to girls and other road users?

These guys should spend their time working on distributed propulsion or alternative fuels than trying to create a flying car. It's the sort of thing that kids dream of, and whilst dreams are the source of many innovations, they should also be adapted to solve "real problems".

The Master
29th May, 2014 @ 01:38 am PDT

The job rating of a chauffeur will go up a few notches, to say the least.

Taking Rt1583's detailed analysis at face value, this is going to take a whole new infra-structure at the very lease. Surely, they would be better off making a road capable helicopter equipped for road use.

Anyone capable of affording such a machine could also afford to have a helipad in their back garden and at their base(s). Given the stage of development that autonomous control has reached, one remote pilot could be responsible for several such aircraft at the same time, taking over for landing and take-off just in case something goes wrong.

Imagine a business where executives book an 'air limousine' which collects them from the helipad at their house, takes them to a helipad at their office, or somewhere close to where they need to be (probably along designated air corridors), lands, deploys its road gear and 'drives' them to the exact destination (for a site visit, say) and takes them to their hotel for the night.

Bad weather? No problem; send a road only limousine until technology develops to the point where only the wildest conditions ground the fleet.

Given all the developments currently taking place with road transport, it cannot be too far off when road accidents are extremely rare events and so insurance will be affordable, even for a road going aircraft.

Mel Tisdale
29th May, 2014 @ 04:27 am PDT

The Jetsons Flying car could quietly hover motionless and could have accidents without becoming a flaming rain of debris. Until the real ones can do this I don't want at least 3/4 of the drivers on the road driving flying cars.

Slowburn
29th May, 2014 @ 05:13 am PDT

I think that is really cool. It looks like the morphed a jet plane with a sports car (created a sports plane?). Although I would never be able to afford one, it would be cool to ride in one.

With that said, I can see a problem. With the wings being exposed to road debri while driving on roads, the wings might be damaged to the point where it can not fly or cause flight problems in the air.

There are two other 'flying cars' that are doing well like the Terraflugia. One looks like a off road vehicle and uses a 'powered parachute' arrangment for flight. The other is a three wheeler and flies with a grycopter arrangement. IIRC, they are both more affordable than this flying jet plane / car vehicle. I believe one is called PAL-V and the other Maverick.

BigGoofyGuy
29th May, 2014 @ 05:49 am PDT

I agree with previous posters that this is a pie in the sky dream. Using a jet engine is far too costly to purchase and maintain for all but the super rich. This is made clear by the multimillion dollar price tag. It would be just as sensible for someone with that cash to buy a good light aircraft and two automobiles. It would cost less and have about the same performance.

VirtualGathis
29th May, 2014 @ 07:37 am PDT

Very attractive styling. Fender benders could be costly though.

ezeflyer
29th May, 2014 @ 09:06 am PDT

Designing a workable and commercially viable flying car is a daunting task as evidenced by the absence of any successful product in the last 100 years of trying. High end is probably the way to go. $3-5million seems realistic. Sure, we would like to see a practical flying SUV that carries four plus cargo at 150 knots up to 10,000 feet for $100,000 or less, BUT it can't be done with today's technology. A multimillion dollar price tag is the only way to incorporate a turbofan engine, the lightweight carbon fiber materials, extensive avionics and other electronics to automate such a complex vehicle. Sorry.

Nostromo47
29th May, 2014 @ 10:30 am PDT

I'm glad that most everyone agreed with my thoughts how wasteful and ridiculous this project is. I have to wonder if DARPA or some other government organization is doling out big money to develop things like this. Cool in concept though they may be, if that is the case, someone needs to reign in the purse strings on this kind of stuff. We're taxed enough already.

Bob Vious
29th May, 2014 @ 10:42 am PDT

Many posters have cited sticker shock of this proposed vehicle limiting its market to only the well heeled. Although the extreme wealth disparity threatens economic stability in this country and others in the world, there is a small cadre of those rich enough to buy such uber luxury items. The makers of exotic sports cars ultra yachts are doing pretty well, thank you.

Nostromo47
29th May, 2014 @ 11:11 am PDT

Of course, they'll at least have ONE customer for this:

BOND, JAMES BOND.

The producers (Broccoli, et al) couldn't possibly pass this up - except, as one would imagine, they'll also require it to be amphibious.

OuldBill
29th May, 2014 @ 12:18 pm PDT

Once again we see the flying car dream being answered by complex fire breathing dangerous bad car bad plane concepts.

The prediction of what will happen is only likely if done by a simple form of propulsion that is extremely light weight by using the air frame, cabin shell and engine all as the same shared components, and without fire just electrons.

ei3io
29th May, 2014 @ 12:23 pm PDT

For every mile of road there are two miles of ditches. The wing-fold geometry is similar to the Uglyfugia. Either vehicle in "ground-mode" would not be able to negotiate a mild cross-wind, let alone the bow-wave of an on-coming tractor-trailer at highway speeds. Investors beware.

Paulinator
29th May, 2014 @ 04:00 pm PDT

It would be even more awesome if they could clip off back end, drive it like a normal looking car and then clip on an outboard. Although somehow I think it would be slightly out of my price range.

Kiwi
29th May, 2014 @ 05:13 pm PDT

My guess is that a vehicle with a rotary wing, like the PAL-V may well be the easiest way to achieve things.

Voyager
29th May, 2014 @ 10:07 pm PDT

Don't touch the red button.... ..

nutcase
30th May, 2014 @ 01:50 am PDT

So where does the power for road use come from?

When one considers that many drivers go along thumb in bum and brain in neutral would you really want them doing it while airborne?

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
2nd June, 2014 @ 05:18 am PDT

The ONLY way we can have flying cars is if they are autonomous drones. Thinking that any other way would be wise is absolutely insane.

Marc Stinebaugh
2nd June, 2014 @ 11:31 am PDT

Kiwi, there was a car plane that did that. The wings were left at the airpot and the body driven as a car. There was only a few made. I think it was more practical than this jet plane car.

BigGoofyGuy
12th June, 2014 @ 11:47 am PDT

Noisy as hell taking off, I presume.

Darin Selby
15th June, 2014 @ 10:41 am PDT
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