The movie Back to the Future predicted we would all be traveling in flying cars by the year 2015. That didn’t happen but an inventor in Davis built a flying car prototype. It’s called the Skycar and the last time it took flight was in 2002.
Inventor Dr. Paul Moller gained worldwide recognition for the cars 40 second hover on a test pad. Moller continued development on his flying vehicle but none of his prototypes have been mass produced. That’s because Moller has run into a number of financial hurdles.
"Money has been a big factor since the beginning." says Moller, who dedicated his life to flying vehicles.
Moller gave up his tenured teaching job at UC Davis to work full time on flying cars. To attract investors in the beginning, he constructed this flying saucer hover craft in his garage. It got a lot of attention when flew it for the media back in in 1989.
"You get investors, but that is never enoug," Molled says. "So, you have to create products to tide you over."
To help fund the development of the flying car Moller built a small jet pack he hoped to sell outdoor enthusiasts.
The jet pack was more of a gas-powered fan you could strap to your back. For obvious safety reasons, the jet pack did not sell, but the jet packs' specially designed muffler turned out to be profitable.
"We sold 25 to 30,000 units," Moller said. "It was very popular with race cars."
Supertrap is what Moller called the muffler. He made a nice profit selling them.
Moller eventually sold the business and used the money to continue developing the engine for his flying car. The rotary engine is light weight and had enough power to lift his flying cars. Eventually Moller’s developments on the rotary engine earned him a number of government contracts.
He built what could be considered the first drone.
"We flew over the heads of the FBI and CIA," Moller remembers. "They were quite impressed but, of course at the time I could not talk about it."
The rotary engine proved to be both practical and reliable in a number of applications, but in the end, government ended the funding.
The Skycars rotary engine may be getting a second chance. Moller is in contract agreements with an engine manufacturer who plans to mass produce Moller’s rotary engines.
The contract is still pending, and the Skycar development is in a holding pattern. Moller is using the time to test his rotary engines for other applications.
Moller said that his engine "can run on a mix of gases," including methane.
"Methane gas is becoming a big problem," Moller explained. "Methane has gone up 20 times. Methane is 100 times worse than a molecule of CO2."
Moller says increased methane levels are bad for the environment and studies show cow and human waste produce a majority of methane.
Moller says he has done extensive tests on the rotary engine using methane. He hopes one day a someone will generate power with it.
"If you can help the world and make money at the same time, that's a good thing," Moller said.
It may seem like Moller is getting side tracked with all these projects, but the 80-year-old inventor says it's all part of the development process.
Despite what skeptics say, Moller plans to for the flying car the flying car in production.
"If I listened to skeptics, I would not get anywhere." Moller said.