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Flying rotor-car beats the traffic blues

Motoring

Anyone who's been stuck in a traffic jam has longed for the ability to simply take to the skies and glide over the gridlock, which has led many a company to work on developing a flying car.

There aren't any on the market yet but Dutch company Pal-V says it's close to production-ready with its Liberty autogyro trike, which will hit the streets (and skies) within a year. It's catchphrase is: "A car that flies, a plane that drives".

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This two-seater is a different spin (ahem) on the flying-car concept in that instead of wings it uses rotor blades and a propeller. This gives it an advantage over winged flying cars in development like the US-made Terrafugia Transition and the Slovak-built Aeromobil. The Liberty's rotor and propeller fold up into a more compact arrangement, making the vehicle around the same size as a regular car when being used on the road.

In car mode the three-wheeler leans into corners much like a skier carving the slopes, giving it a real sports car feel. It has decent performance too, and though the engine musters just 75kW the car's very low 664kg kerb weight allows it to cover the 0-100km/h sprint in a creditable nine seconds. It also has a top speed of 160km/h and a fuel range of 1315km.

In flying mode the Liberty has a max speed of 180km/h, a cruising speed of between 140 to 161 km/h, and a single-person range of up to 500km.

To prepare for lift-off, drivers need to manually unfold the rotor blades and propeller, a process which takes between three to five minutes.

This is an autogyro not a helicopter, so one drawback is that it can't take off and land vertically, and like a plane it still requires a runway (of at least 280 metres). This is because the rotor doesn’t get power; instead the propulsion from the propeller at the rear causes the blades on top to spin and create lift.

It's therefore not quite a gridlock-beating panacea where you can simply fly out of a traffic jam, but it does allow you to drive to the airport, fly to your destination, and then switch back into car mode for the final leg of the trip.

What price does one put on such convenience? This is strictly a rich person's toy with its pricetag of $599 000 (R8-million), but there is a cheaper version on the way at R5.3-million. 

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