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by Henry Hoffman

For decades people have been dreaming of an affordable personal flying machine that they can park in their garage (Aviation, 2003). This vehicle has been featured in movies set in the future such as The Rocketeer , Judge Dread, The Fifth Element, and A.I. Today, the reality of this dream is beginning to enter more serious conversations about new technology and inventions. Although such personal flying vehicles may not take over the future of transportation during your lifetime, you may want have something to add to the conversation. Did you know a flying car is already well in the process of being built by Israel’s Urban Aeronautics (UrbanAero) Company (Urban Aeronautics (UrbanAero), 2002) and the company expects it be part of everyday life within the next quarter of a century? UrbanAero anticipates the personal flying vehicle’s initial affect will be felt in rescue and military operations (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 2). What gives UrbanAero confidence in its expectations is its patented ducted fan design and “steering” system.

UrbanAero is currently making the “world’s first FAA certifiable, VTOL [vertical-take-off and landing], multi-mission, aerial, utility vehicle capable of operating safely in complex urban and natural environments” (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 2). This hovering device called X-Hawk operates on two fans that are powered by internal combustion engines and is designed to: take off and land vertically; stay in the air for an hour; carry at least two passengers; fly up to 8,000 feet above ground; and reach flight speeds of 80-90 knots (92-103 mph). Most importantly, the X-Hawk is only 2.2 by 4.7 meters, which is about the area of a car parking space (UrbanAero, 2002). With safety an obvious concern, many precautions were taken in the design of X-Hawk, including: contained rotors (no exposed blades) (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 4), a redundancy of engines that allows the vehicle to land despite the malfunction of an engine, and all critical components such as engines and props are FAA certified units (UrbanAero, 2002). Though the first vehicles may cost as much as half a million dollars, it is estimated that the price will drop to around $50,000 or less upon being mass-produced (Bonsor, 2003). This relative cheapness for a flying car is due to the inexpensive design of the “lift” source—the ducted fans. Flying cars’ low price tag should give them a competitive edge over helicopters that have similar uses and are quite pricey. This attribute of the flying car gives an answer to the question: What need is there for a flying-car when we already have helicopters?

The crucial elements to the design of this flying car is the ducted fans that are responsible for providing an upward lift force to the vehicle, and the vanes (relatively thin, flat surfaces mounted along an axis) that direct the direction of the exiting fluid (air, in the case of flying cars) from the contained fans. The blades of ducted fans are installed inside circular cavities or ducts, thus deriving there name “ducted fans.” In the VTOL that UrbanAero is designing, there are two relatively large ducted fans. The fans are arranged around the vehicle’s center of gravity, allowing the vehicle to rise steadily into the air, and maintain control. The ducted fans intake a fluid from the surroundings and push the fluid out on the opposite side in order to exert a force on the fluid below the fan. Since the vehicle is designed to go up, the fans would always push the air under the vehicle, which would cause the surrounding air beneath the flying car to exert an equal force on the blades of the fan in the opposite direction of exiting fluid, pushing the flying car upwards (Yoeli, 2002).

To control which way the vehicle is “pushed,” UrbanAero has patented a new technology that allows the operator of the VTOL machine to change the direction of the vanes that are positioned on the under side of the ducted container. Having the ability to change the vanes arrangements while airborne allows for the ability to use different forces that can cause the vehicle to go side-ways, roll, pitch and yaw. The “driver” controls the vanes through a small electronic motor that can rotate the vanes almost a full 180 degrees to give exceptional manipulability to the flying car. Therefore, by implementing a device that gives control over the direction of these vanes, the vehicle can change direction much like a helicopter does. The position of these vanes alters the horizontal and vertical forces exerted on the vehicle by the air beneath it to push it in any desired direction. This feature gives the driver excellent handling making it useful for many tasks (Yoeli, 2002). One such advantage is that the flying car will be given the ability to slant forward with the front facing slightly down. This angle allows for the vehicle to maximize speed using the fans for control, lift, and a forward thrust (Yoeli, 2002).

The current focus of the company is to construct a design flexible to changes for different and unique utility functions. Having a flexible work module allows it to adapt to a variety of tasks such as: a military transport, an air unit patrol, a utility work vehicle for repairs, and a toy for recreational use (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 2 & 6). These will be possibilities because the X-Hawk is based on the most recent technology in ducted fans that allows it to have the safety features to land in groups of people (UrbanAero, 2002), the power to carry several hundred pounds of cargo, the ability to hover directly adjacent to a wall or the side of a mountain, and the benefit of being significantly quieter and cheaper than a helicopter (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 5). At the moment, UrbanAero anticipates that the initial implementation of the X-Hawk will be primarily for urban rescue and medical evacuation (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 2), and therefore the company has directed their initial design towards building an X-Hawk that will be practical in rescue situations (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 4). In addition, one can be sure to see small flying machine in military operations before long, noting that the company’s Board of Directors and its director of development have all served high positions in the Israel Air Force (IAF) (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 3).

UrbanAero’s ducted fan design and patented control system has opened up new possibilities for VTOLs, which could cause for the demand of flying cars to rise and a broader market for flying cars. With a consumer in mind, UrbanAero appears determined to produce a product that will affect soldiers, rescue personnel, and stranded victims in remote locations in the near future, with much more widespread potential in the long run. Considering UrbanAero’s broad financial support in only the first round of funding and its team that is led by a president acknowledged as a leading authority in VTOL development (UrbanAero, 2002, p. 3), the company is in the position to develop a mass produced aerial vehicle. Realizing that a company exists with a team experienced in aviation that is serious about inventing a personal aerial machine, a flying car seems inevitable.


Aviation. End of the Road for Flying Cars. Retrieved January 24, 2003, from http://aviation.about.com/library/weekly/aa123100.htm
Bonsor, Kevin. (2003). How flying cars will work. Retrieved January 25, 2003, from http://www.howstuffworks.com/flying-car2.htm
Jones, Simon. (2002).Flying Cars. Future Facing. Retrieved January 25, 2003, from http://www.futurefacing.com/Flying%20cars.htm
Israel Air Force (2003). About the Israel Air Force. Retrieved January 25, 2003, from http://www.iaf.org.il/iaf/doa_iis.dll/Serve/level/English/1.3.2.html

Krishner, S. Everett, J (2003, February). How about an Urban Aerial Utility vehicle [Electronic version]. Popular Science, Vol. 262 issue 12, p.113, 1p
Urban Aeronautics. (2002). The CityHawk and TuboHawk flying cars. Retrieved January 24, 2003, from http://www.turbohawk.com/

Urban Aeronautics. (2002, September 18). X-Hawk: The Revolutionary, Modular, Aerial, Utility Vehicle. Retrieved January 24, 2003, from http://www.turbohawk.com/e-brochure.pdf

Urban Aeronautics. (2002, September 19). September 19, 2002 Update. Retrieved January 24, 2003, from http://www.turbohawk.com/07_2002.htm

Yoeli, Rafi. (2002, October 15). Ducted fan vehicles particularly useful as VTOL aircraft. Retrieved February 1, 2003, from http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=/netahtml/search-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND

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