Thursday, July 1, 2010

James Fallows on flying cars (he's pessimistic)

James Fallows, an aviation enthusiast and proponent of air taxis, tempers his enthusiasm for flying cars as a sign of American greatness after getting mail from an aviation engineer. The engineer does identify many of the practical and land use related problems of flying cars:
Every principle of engineering leads to one inescapable conclusion about a flying car, or "roadable aircraft": it can ONLY be a lousy example of both. The practical reality is, you can have a crap car, and a crap airplane, for five times the money and ten times the chance of dying from sudden impact.

IMHO, this particular pursuit can only be evidence of American greatness IF you think techno-triumphalism without foresight is a great thing. Americans love cars because they associate them with "freedom" in a quasi-religious fashion. But look at the unintended consequences of happy motoring: the astounding wealth squandered on the doomed project of suburbanization, and the paving of the American West.

Suppose we were able to build a Blade Runner-esque hover-car that runs on magical cheap biofuel made from lawn clippings? Every alpine meadow, mountain lake, canyon rim, and forest vale would be colonized by fat "extreme suburbanites" who would fly to and from their "green" modular McMansions.

Dude: walkable cities connected by mass transit.

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