“Anyone can fly the Skycar,” the headline on the January 1991 cover of Popular Mechanics blared, teasing the possibility of a future where everyone could own their own “flying car.” That dream never came to fruition, but the original Skycar can now be yours to own. Moller International, the company that built the iconic vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, announced today that it is putting the M400 Skycar up for sale on eBay. Just don’t expect to use it for your daily commute.
That’s because the Skycar, while having successfully completed several low-stakes tests, is not approved for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration. Moller says that one condition of its sale is that “it cannot be flown.”
According to Moller, “The Skycar combines the high-speed capabilities of a fixed wing aircraft with the vertical take-off and landing capabilities of a helicopter. Its ducted fans provide lift and propulsion without the dangers of exposed rotor blades and high maintenance costs of rotary-winged aircraft. The vehicle employs state-of-the-art fly-by-wire computer technology to monitor, control, and maintain stability of the aircraft, while simultaneously making it simple and easy to operate.”
So why the hell would anyone buy this thing if they can’t use it to freak out their neighbors? Moller suggests someone looking for a “centerpiece of any car or aircraft collection in a public or private museum” should look no further than the Skycar. Truth be told, this thing is a piece of history — and not an entirely positive history to boot.
Paul Moller, 80, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis, is considered to be the world’s preeminent flying car enthusiast. For over 40 years, Moller has been preaching the gospel of VTOL, claiming that we would all have personal, road-ready aircraft parked in our garages in the future. And he sought to make this Jetson-ian vision of the future come true through sheer force of will. But none of this vehicles ended up flying for any sustained time, and many now consider Moller a charlatan.
The Securities and Exchange Commission went after him in 2003 for issuing fraudulent stock. In 2013, he launched a crowdfunding campaign to get his flying car off the ground, but he only raised 3 percent of his stated goal. He reportedly burned through $100 million developing his designs and declared personal bankruptcy in 2009.
But Moller may ultimately end up being vindicated, because many have taken his idea of street-worthy personal aircraft and taken it to the next level. Today, flying cars are in vogue, with everyone from Uber to Google’s Larry Page investing in the vision. Many experts say that, thanks to advances in battery technology, artificial intelligence, and drones, we’re closer than ever to seeing real VTOL aircraft take flight.
In the meantime, let’s stop calling them flying cars.