Honda and Toyota have been pursuing the idea of personal aircraft. It won't be the Jetsons yet, but as Forbes reports, Honda has an engine and airframe combination that reduces fuel use by 40%, bringing operating costs down sharply. The purchase price of the craft will also be low compared to its quality, potentially causing a bit of a revolution in the next decade. Though according to Aviation International, the current project may only be a trial balloon, and nothing may come of it in the near future, AVweb thinks US general-aviation manufacturers will be wiped off the map unless they too usher in a new age of cheap reliable personal aviation. ...Someone get Moller on the job, stat!
I live a couple of miles from the local municipal airport, which serves only private planes. The noise pollution from these aircraft is substantial -- far worse than automotive traffic -- and the air pollution is equally bad.
While I would expect Honda and Toyota to improve both types of pollution, I can't help thinking this is world changing in the wrong direction.
This Moller guy has been promising air cars for decades.
Every few years there's a flurry of articles about his work. There's a tiresome predictability to them. ("Tired of traffic? In a few years you'll be able to buy an air car that lets you soar above it all, free as a bird!") No introspection at all; just a Popular Science flavored blurb followed by some brief quotes from Moller, promising that his craft will be able to fly untethered Any Day Now.
In the last flap, Moller suggested that maybe you wouldn't actually fly these craft; they'd be guided strictly by autopilot, both for ease of use and to prevent someone from using the the car as a terrorist weapon.
Wow, that's appealing!
Then there's the environmental impact. I'm not a hair-shirt deep ecologist, but I think it's fairly obvious that a STOL vehicle is going to consume an enormous amounts of fuel to carry a given cargo compared to a wheeled vehicle.
Where small aircraft might prove useful is to help create regional mass air transit. James Fallows wrote a book about this a few years back.
Yeah, you might've noticed my Moller reference was rather tongue-in-cheek. Environmentally speaking his vehicle sounds fine--it supposedly gets 26mpg--but as you said it's been vaporware for about twenty years now. I'm not holding my breath.
On the other hand, if Cessna decides they're getting killed by Honda and need to leapfrog, they might buy Moller out, throw some massive engineering money at the project, and make it into the real deal. Who knows.
If everyone "drove" a cessna there would be an incessant buzzing overhead day and night. Drunk flyers would crash into your house in the middle of the night without any warning. People would buy the biggest, noisiest most vibrating piece of metal they could find (thinking that it's safer).
I would prefer if these planes had to take off vertically and quietly by being lifted on a barely lighter-than air-airship platform, and were light enough to be able to glide to a silent landing, possibly without using much fuel. The planes themselves could cost much less. The platform could be pulled back down by cables using only electric energy and should be able to take advantage of winds to raise itself like a kite and to stabilize and help to lower itself using ailerons.