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Flying Car PAL-V One Taking Off, “Hybrid” Air Ambulances in Our Future?

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Forget about flying “spy drones” for a moment – what do you think about looking up and seeing these flying around?

Bringing new, smirking meaning to the word “convertible,” a company in the Netherlands recently completed the successful maiden flight of what may turn out to be the first flying car viable to be produced and sold commercially.

The PAL-V One is a two-seat personal flying vehicle (essentially a “flying car”) that allows the user to drive on the road, take off into the air, and, of course, land back on terra firma. It’s essentially a hybrid between a futuristic passenger car and a gyroplane. The PAL-V company appears determined to get their design past the prototype stage into a design customers around the world can buy and operate within their country’s aviation laws.

With the possibility of transforming flying cars going into production within the decade, could air ambulances capable of driving on roads andtaking to the skies be very far off?Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of flying car prototypes appear in the news. Many go off the radar, and we never hear any more about them. So, what makes this one different?
Well, it could be the most “viable” flying car that’s been produced so far, from a commercial standpoint. Sure, the price is still astronomically high for all but the most wealthy people in the world, but if competition eventually drives the price down, it’s not too hard to imagine these sitting in driveways and parking lots of the future.Due to it being essentially a rotor-craft at its core, it can operating within existing international aviation regulations. This fact alone makes the chances of the PAL-V One being the first commercially successful flying car much more likely.

 

The car (aircraft?) has three wheels, evoking future concept cars like the BMW CLEVER prototype or the electric 3R-C from Honda. Since the rotor/propeller folds back into the vehicle when it’s in its ground form, the PAL-V One in car-mode even rather looks like one of those promised “future cars” that has yet to go into mass production.

Minus the helicopter-like features, the One’s chassis somewhat resembles some of the concept cars put out by existing automobile manufacturers – or maybe something you’d see passing you on the Autobahn or the 305 in Japan.

Like something out of Transformers, the flying car toggles between its ground and air modes in minutes, with the helicopter blades/rotor assembly and tail fins folding out for air travel, and then simply folding back in for road travel. This begs the question: Can your Lexus do that?

Not yet.

Don’t fly down to the local dealership and buy one just yet, however. Besides the fact that we probably won’t see these for sale (with a suitable price tag) until at least 2014, driving/piloting one of these aircraft in the United States would almost certainly require, at minimum, a sports pilot certificate. Of course, there aren’t a lot of specific FAA rules in place for “flying cars” in the United States*, but the Air Ambulance Weekly staff assumes that many of the same rules governing the use of personal gyrocopters would apply.

(*Actually, in 2010, the FAA classified the fixed-wing Terrafugia Transition aircraft, another possible candidate for first viable flying car, as a “Light Sport Aircraft,” possibly setting a precedent that will apply to consumer flying cars in the future, until they become common enough to warrant more specific law-making and regulation.)

The Terrafugia Transition is another two-seater flying car prototype with a fold-out fixed-wing design.

The Terrafugia Transition is another two-seater flying car prototype with a fold-out fixed-wing design.

According to the maker’s website, The PAL-V One flies below 4,000 feet, which puts it out of VFR airspace. Its top speed on both land and air is 112 mph. Surprisingly, the aircraft uses regular gasoline.

Though various firms and inventors have been working on prototypes for flying cars for decades, the technology could still be said to be in its infant stages. Thus, it makes a fair bit of sense that the first flying cars we’d see would look something like a helicopter, before we enter the era of personal jet-powered vehicles or see something resembling the elusive “rocket car.”

Because the flying components are based on gyroplane technology, the PAL-V One can apparently be steered and landed safely even in the event of engine failure, since the rotor is designed to continue rotating automatically.

Also like a gyroplane, it is not extremely picky when it comes to take-off and landing locations. Although this prototype still requires a strip (paved or grass) of about 540 feet for a safe take-off, the potential for true VTOL flying cars is evident even in the current design.

The Future of Air Medical Transport?

With the faint wisps of air ambulances zipping around cities and rural areas like mini-harriers in the future, just how long will it be before we see the first ground/air ambulance hybrid? In all seriousness, such a versatile aircraft could be a perfect fit for some types of transports, and would definitely help to simplify the important decision over whether an air ambulance should be dispatched to pick up a patient.

“Convertible” air ambulances could, in many years, eliminate the problems of air transporting a patient to a facility without a helipad, or finding an available pad/runway close to the destination hospital. In a world where mere seconds can be the most valuable commodity, a true “door-to-door” air ambulance is certainly an intriguing concept, if nothing else.

Taking the idea further, envision the future “off-road” ambulance that can take off vertically for greater speed and to avoid obstacles/hindrances like road traffic and terrain; an air ambulance that can set down and drive on the road in poor flying conditions, all without disturbing the patient or disrupting the air medical crew.

Don’t worry, our heads aren’t that far in the clouds (get it?). Surely, we won’t see anything in the air medical world like this for quite some time. The technology still has quite a long distance to go, and on that course there will most likely be hurdles and challenges we can’t even imagine today.

Whether such vehicles would be viable for patient transports, or whether there would be other concerns that would render such a thing impractical, all remains to be seen. However, if the far-off future does include “convertible” air ambulances, this could be what the beginning looks like.

Could a “hybrid” ground/air ambulance ever truly be practical? How could patients and the air medical industry benefit from such an aircraft? What challenges can you think of?

We at Air Ambulance Weekly would love to hear your opinions.

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