John McGinnis thinks ordinary families would rather skip the airport and fly themselves. So he is trying to reinvent the personal airplane with the help of his father, son, and a rotating crew of about two dozen volunteers. Unlike small aircraft today—which can cost more than a house—McGinnis says Synergy could be cheaper, quieter, and, at more than 40 mpg, three times as fuel-efficient.
McGinnis, a 47-year-old composite manufacturer, flew his first airplane in second grade. Perplexed by the inefficiencies of personal aircraft, he taught himself aeronautical engineering and fluid dynamics over two decades. One day, while perusing scientific studies at a desk in his daughters' bedroom, he read a NASA researcher's paper challenging a classic aerodynamic drag equation. McGinnis could see the possibilities. "I came out of the girls' bedroom ranting like a madman to my wife," he says. " 'Honey, you're never going to believe this. I think I just solved a problem I've been working on since I was a little kid.'"
Synergy's wings bend upward and into a box shape for minimum drag and maximum efficiency. The top half of each wing swoops behind the body to function as a tail while providing greater in-flight stability. The double-box tail design also makes gliding easier by counteracting tornado-like vortices at the wings' tips. And instead of a front-mounted propeller, an impeller placed behind the bullet-shaped body quiets noise while adding thrust.
1) A 200hp turbodiesel engine expels heat below the impeller, adding thrust.
2) Large wings allow slower takeoffs and landings.
3) Box tails create airflow patterns that reduce drag and increase flight stability.
4) An autopilot computer can land Synergy at a nearby runway during an emergency; a ballistic parachute can also be deployed.
McGinnis works on Synergy in his father's garage, where he uses CNC machines and custom molds to fabricate components and 3-D software to rapidly model new ideas. Family members serve among the core build crew, with McGinnis's son, Kyle, second-in-command. A quarter-scale prototype made from fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar suggests that both the team's manufacturing process and unusual wing configuration work. Using about $80,000 in crowdfunded cash, they hope to finish a full-scale, five-person aircraft this year. "I work on it 90 hours a week, with a few hours of sleep," McGinnis says. "What drives me to do it is that no one else will."
COST TO DEVELOP
Ye Ole Flying Car: A Pop Sci perennial that never seems to die off but is always brought back in one guise or another decade after decade after decade after decade after.....
Howdy vanderleun. You're welcome to point out in this article where we use the word "car" or even imply as much.
Dave Mosher / Projects Editor / Popular Science / @davemosher
This is not about the flying car you troll. It's about an affordable, Fuel Efficient, personal Aircraft. Your average small airplane will set you back a LOT of Dough. He is trying to build something that is affordable to the Average Earner, not just the rich.
I'm with vanderleun. Popsci has been writing about the flying car forever. Nothing wrong with that, but it's fact. That it doesn't mention "car" is beside the point, the implication is still there.
Affordable? I'll believe it when I see it. You can buy a used Cessna for the same as a mid-priced car. And while I don't have all the stats on this aircraft, it looks beyond the scope of the more affordable sport-pilot's license. Attaining a private pilot's license costs $8,000 and up, and a minimum 6 months of training (it can be done in less, but requires full-time commitment). I don't consider that affordable for the average earner in today's economy.
At no point does it even imply the possibility of it being "The flying car". It states very plainly in the descriptions that it would take off and land at municipal airports and the only far-reaching stretch of implication was in the title "Family flier", which by no means means car. It is plainly alluding to the fact that it would be an affordable 4+seater aircraft. Yes a used Cessna may cost a little more than a Mid-sized car, but you are only going to get 1 maybe 2 seats. So your argument is invalid. FYI Average price for a Cessna Skyhawke 172 was 100-250k (lowest I found was 50k For anything 2000 or better, I found a few for less but they were 50's-70's models..) What Mid-sized car are YOU buying?
I never mentioned a model year, because a well maintained aircraft can be as good as new, minus technical upgrades. You can easily find a used 4-seater aircraft for under $50 grand.
And regardless of that it still doesn't take into account my point about licensing, nor does it consider maintenance or storage costs.
While I applaud the effort, and hope it succeeds, I don't see this being any more affordable than what is currently available under current regulations.
@ gillis: I'd just like to know where these planes that you know of are-that a person who trusts a midpriced car to protect his family would trust to protect his family while flying. You just point me to em, and I'll get the loan-for two dozen. Strangely, even though I look regularly, I'm not finding them. I could easily sell 2 dozen right where I live in the next three months. And have a brand spankin new one to show for it when I'm done. For every plane that I'd vett and accept for purchase, I'll pay you 2k as finder fee. You can make good money. And I'd make great money. And have a new airplane to buy gas for.
On Topic: I have no idea what people have problems with this airplane over. I find it to have been a eye-grabbing, thought provoking set of advancements since the magazine showed up in my mail on Saturday. This family has taken personal aircraft to a new level, and upon full certification I'll be recommending this plane to my eldest daughter on a very short list. In the meantime, I'll be taking opportunity to pester the family McGinnis now and again for updates on their progress. I'll go out on a limb and ASSUME that they'll be making a successful FAA full cert into a production marketing drive specifically at OshKosh, among other places. Being that we have family on the other side of the lake, it's most likely that we will be meeting there to talk turkey. I look forward to it and wish them nothing but the best. Now hurry the hell up! Where there's a whip, there's a way!
This stinks of Mr Charles Legiti's Stratos as seen on beyond 2000 , I belive his son is carrying on with his fathers work. Melbourne Australia . The whole concept looks stolen from the stratos . I tend to give credit where it's due . Maybe POPULAR SCIENCE could revist The Stratos ! Search http://www.google.ca/search?q=ligeti+stratos&rls=com.microsoft:en-ca:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGLL_en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Vu9vUbqGIOqLyAHi3oDwBg&ved=0CDkQsAQ&biw=800&bih=485
RIP Charles Legiti
If my family of four needs to travel cross-country a couple times per year, it is far faster, cheaper and safer to travel by commercial jet than by flying in any homebuilt aircraft. Of course, that fact would not make for an interesting PopSci article.
It's not entirely unfair to criticize PopSci for a long history of flying car articles, but this isn't one of them. I'm not associated with the Synergy project in any way, but I am familiar with the work of Mr. McGinnis and the basic principles that he is employing to make Synergy special. I'm not an expert, but an interested bystander that's been following this project for a couple of years.
Synergy is unlikely to be "cheap" in consumer terms, at least for the foreseeable future, but it is indeed offering to dramatically improve fuel and production efficiencies. This is not some futuristic dream, but a real aircraft based on real physics. John McGinnis is merely trying to bring proven 20th Century aerodynamic principles to modern general aviation aircraft that can be flown by everyday pilots. These advanced aerodynamics are presently employed mainly by military and large aerospace companies and this is why Synergy has the potential to be dramatically better than our current fleet of small aircraft, most of which are more than 40 years old.
Perhaps the most novel feature of Synergy is that it proposes to make the powerplant *improve* efficiency rather than reduce it. Unpowered gliders are very efficient, but general aviation has never figured out how to make *powered* aircraft that have similar efficiency. The propeller or turbine is always a huge aerodynamic burden on present aircraft. Synergy simply attempts to change that equation by employing aerodynamic principles developed and proven decades ago. The project is not a copy of other designs, though Mr. McGinnis has always been quick to credit the giants that we all stand atop.
I cannot say how the project will turn out or whether the aircraft will be truly affordable to the average family, but I can say that this is not just a glamorous artist's rendition intended to attract unwarranted publicity. Synergy is a real plane with real aerodynamic advances over anything in its class. There's no way to know what impact it will have on the dying general aviation industry, but Synergy technologies will likely be remembered as a giant step forward for practical aviation.
Synergy has often been compared with the Ligeti Stratos aircraft, but if you look carefully you'll note that Synergy does not have a tandem box wing like the Stratos, but a different configuration Mr. McGinnis calls "box tails". If I remember correctly, tandem box wings do offer efficiency advantages, but also tend to have problems with flight stability. Most tandem wing designs are quite tricky to fly, because the center of lift "bounces" around a lot, especially in turbulent air. The "tails" on Synergy push down, while they tend to push up in tandem box wing designs. This may sound minor, but it totally changes the flight physics. McGinnis wanted something inherently stable and he proved the design while flying the scale model in the photo (yes, that's a flyable RC aircraft), which is the whole reason the team is now working on the full-scale airplane.
It's true that some of the features listed in the article aren't as impressive as claimed. For example, this article suggests that this airplane will be special because an autopilot will be able to land at the nearest airport in an emergency. Synergy probably is designed to have this feature, but in the near future it is likely that any new or retrofitted airplane with an autopilot will be able to do the same. It may be novel and even unavailable as a factory option right now, but the technology already exists and will soon find its way into standard flight systems on a wide range of aircraft. Computers are presently revolutionizing our aircraft and it has happened virtually overnight.
Ballistic airframe parachutes are also commonly available on standard aircraft, so that's not such a big deal, either.
I think there are variety of good points here. I agree that this is a great looking plane and wish John all the best. I also agreed with riff_raff, that if you need to go far, it is hard to beat commercial air travel, yes, slow getting to, on, and off the plane, but at 500 mph in the air, great for long distances.
What I don't believe is that the fundamental issue with airplanes is cost, safety, used plane prices, etc. These do all contribute, but I feel they are secondary. The primary reason that planes aren't as popular is they do not, for most individuals, provide enough utility. Most people don't need to get to an airport, they need to go somewhere off airport. If it is under 400 miles or so, why would I fly? By the time I drive to the 1st airport, part, get the plane out, pre-flight, load the plane, take off, cruise, land, taxing, park, and then get into a 2nd car, I have probably used up all the advantages of the plane, or have at least put such a significant dent in them that it isn't worth it. Georgia Tech used to have a nice site where you could test different modes, but I don't think it works anymore.
VTOL solves that. For a variety of distinations, but not all, you can fly direct from A to B. If amphibious, then the destinations of interest are nearly unlimited. If you could make a VTOL that is affordable, easy to fly, good speed, good range and with great engine out capabilities, then the utility goes way up. That is exactly what the Helodyne is trying to accomplish (www.Helodyne.com).
The Driving vs. Flying page gives a nice peak into what direct flight could mean.
gillis said:"Popsci has been writing about the flying car forever. Nothing wrong with that, but it's fact. That it doesn't mention "car" is beside the point, the implication is still there."
Stupid, STUPID comment, Gillis. There is NO implication if the article made no reference whatsoever to ground transportation. And now you're going to tell John McGinnis, the inventor and his company, Synergy Aircraft, that their invention and product MUST be a flying car because the "...implication was there."?!?!?
If one were to adopt YOUR logic, gilis, they'd toss any mail from the IRS in the trash before opening the envelope since they believe that where the IRS is concerned, no news is good news. Never mind the fact that their tax return indicated a refund of several thousand dollars was due.
gillis said: "I never mentioned a model year, because a well maintained aircraft can be as good as new, minus technical upgrades. You can easily find a used 4-seater aircraft for under $50 grand.
And regardless of that it still doesn't take into account my point about licensing, nor does it consider maintenance or storage costs. "
gillis, there's a helluva lot you don't know about this aircraft while making comments as if you are an expert. There is no basis for comparing this aircraft to a Cessna. The designs share one point in common - they are meant to fly. And for the record, you didn't say a word about the "... maintenance and storage costs" of your Cessna.
"John McGinnis thinks ordinary families would rather skip the airport and fly themselves"
Well that's obviously not a "flying car," ... it's a flying minivan.
I bet it will be slower, have a lower operating ceiling, carry less weight for a shorter distance than a conventional airplane with the same horsepower much as Burt Rutan's Beech Starship proved less efficient than the old Beech King Air using the same engines. I just takes a glance to see the "box tail" is draggy.
I someone is going to try something like this, take one step at a time starting with the diesel engine in a conventional airplane. The way the new diesel can be evaluated against its spark ignition predecessor. The airframe should be evaluated as a glider where the aerodynamic performance can be measured without an engine "polluting" the data.
If you want to see the pinnacle of aerodynamic efficiency look at a sailplane.
Bildan: " I just takes a glance to see the "box tail" is draggy."
From the article: "3) Box tails create airflow patterns that reduce drag and increase flight stability"
@scooter902 Thanks for the link.
The Legiti Stratos is amazing!
I thought the prototype was a model when the pilot was standing next to it, then the guy got into that tiny plane and it flew so effortlessly.
If the Family Flier works this well they might have a successful product. It does seem as if they copied most of the design though.
"Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds."
Personally, I love seeing this sort of innovation in the marketplace, and it's why I follow Popsci
Seems some people forgot to take their medication...
To PopSci editorial staff I have two things to say:
(1) Thanks for keeping the spam bots out of the discussion
(2) You have my permission to post flying car and/or family aircraft articles in perpetuity
Also, I'd very much like to get one of these.
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"Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds."......Personally, I love seeing this sort of innovation in the marketplace, and it's why I follow Popsci"
RoboLucas- I also enjoy reading about things like this aircraft design in PopSci. But at the same time, I also take the notion that such an aircraft will fundamentally transform the way people travel, with a large grain of salt. 90% of US families have an annual gross income of less than $100K. Thus, how would an aircraft that costs well over $100K to purchase, plus an additional $10-20K per year to store and maintain, be anywhere close to affordable?
While I'd love to see this project succeed commercially, the reality is that there is not enough market demand for this concept to make a profit.
I think that the head line implies "flying car." But, hey, that's why I clicked on the article. I like the "flying car" articles, they embody the "what could be" bits of imagination and provide what could be great inspiration to a great thinker who changes the world. I would hope that the editorial staff of PopSci hasn't lost such sight of the magazine's roots to consider "flying car" an insult to their journalistic integrity. This is one of the best articles in PopSci that I've read in a very long time!
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PoPSCI reposting old articles, once again...... sad sigh.....
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