Moller Celebrates Flightless 50

Still working on first untethered flight half a century later.



Moller International announced last week the 50th anniversary of the development of the Skycar, a product that is the brainchild or idea of Paul Moller. The Skycar is not intended as a roadable aircraft, claims the company, but rather as a kind of Jetson's style replacement for automobiles; hence, the "Skycar" name.

The vehicle, which is claimed to be a four-seater, makes use of four ducted fan rotary engines that are encased in repositionable nacelles. In 2003, the Skycar hovered for a short period of time while tethered to a cable suspended from a crane. Moller claims that it has since made several additional tethered hovers. A promised manned, untethered flight has been scheduled and canceled on numerous occasions over the years but has never been attempted. The company says it has spent around $100 million over that time to develop its craft.

The projected specifications of the Skycar are truly fantastic in the truest sense of the word. Moller projects a cruise speed of 360 mph at sea level, a maximum range of 750 miles (presumably statute miles) and a ceiling of 35,000 feet for the unpressurized craft powered by (for now) normally aspirated Wankel engines. The figures are all difficult or impossible to reconcile with the shape or design of the current model, known as the M400X. The company has claimed that the craft would continue to be controllable if any one of the four ducted fan engines were to fail. It will be “parachute equipped” and computer controlled, says Moller.

Fifty years is a long time for any aircraft company to be in business--in that time, many respected aircraft makers have come and gone. But it’s indeed a remarkable milestone for a manufacturer that has yet to make a first actual flight with one of its manned designs. Then again, that kind of deliberate approach to first flight might well be a reflection of the company’s continuing culture of safety.