With the PAL-V last appearing on our pages way back in 2004, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just another flying car concept that never made it off the ground. But Dutch company PAL-V Europe NV has been busy in the past seven years having finalized the design concept in 2008 and testing a driving prototype in 2009. Now the flying-driving prototype has been put through its paces with video of the PAL-V’s recent successful maiden flight now released.
Although the finished vehicle looks slightly different to the computer renderings available in 2004, the design remains pretty much the same. On the ground the two-seater PAL-V is an aerodynamic tilting three-wheeler that is designed to combine the handling of a motorbike with a mechanical-hydraulic dynamic tilting mechanism automatically adjusting the tilt angle of the vehicle while cornering.
It is powered by a 160 kW flight certified gasoline engine – although there will also be biodiesel and bio-ethanol versions - that can accelerate the vehicle from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in under eight seconds, on the way to a top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph). In ground mode the vehicle boasts estimated fuel economy figures of 12 km/l (28 mpg US) and a range of 1,200 km (750 miles).
To convert from automobile to airplane, the vehicle’s engine must be brought to a stop – no Transformer-like transition on the go unfortunately. The tail is then extended and the rotor unfolded in a process that takes less than 10 minutes. Upon starting the engine the foldable push propeller emerges from the rear of the cabin to provide the forward thrust. To go from aircraft to automobile, the process is simply reversed.
The PAL-V requires a strip (either pavement or grass) of at least 165 m (540 ft) to get airborne and just 30 m (100 ft) to land. Once in the air it can reach a maximum speed of 97 kts (180 km/h/112 mph), with a minimum speed of 27 kts (50 km/h/31 mph) required for level flight. In flight mode it has an estimated fuel economy of 36 l/h (9.5 US gph) and a range of 350-500 km (220-315 miles), depending on the model type, payload and wind conditions.
Designed to generally operate below 1,200 m (4,000 ft), the PAL-V flies within the airspace reserved for uncontrolled Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic, meaning it can take off in many countries without filing a flight plan. The company points out that governments in the U.S. and Europe are examining the development of “digital freeways” that use GPS technology to provide a safe corridor for such vehicles.
Flying like a standard gyrocopter, the PAL-V’s main rotor has a slower rotation than a helicopter, making it quieter and giving it the ability to take off and land at lower speeds. The company says it is also easier to control and cannot stall and, even if the engine fails, it can be steered and landed safely as the rotor keeps auto rotating.
Measuring 4(L) x 1.6(W) x 1.6(H) m (13.1 x 5.2 x 5.2 ft), the PAL-V weighs 680 kg (1,499 lb) and can carry a maximum load of 230 kg (507 lb) for a maximum gross weight of 910 kg (2,006 lb). The company says the PAL-V complies with existing regulations in all major markets making it legal for both road and air use. Obtaining a license requires only 20 to 30 hours of training.
Having conducted successful test flights, the PAL-V team will now focus on the design of the first commercial model PAL-V, with first deliveries expected in 2014. PAL-V Europe says law enforcement agencies, the military, and flying doctors have already expressed interest in the vehicle.
Here’s video of the PAL-V’s maiden flight.