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Lawmaker wants to make sure Arizona is ready when ‘flying cars’ arrive

Posted 1/30/24

PHOENIX — The flying cars that The Jetsons made us believe we would all have by now haven’t quite materialized. But a veteran state lawmaker want to be sure Arizona is ready for them when they finally do arrive.

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Lawmaker wants to make sure Arizona is ready when ‘flying cars’ arrive


PHOENIX — The flying cars "The Jetsons" made us believe we would all have by now haven’t quite materialized.

But a veteran state lawmaker wants to be sure Arizona is ready for them when they finally do arrive.

Sen. David Farnsworth is shepherding a proposal through the Legislature to ease the process of getting these vehicles registered with the state. The proposal by the Mesa Republican would create a one-stop process where the owner of these build-it kits could get the necessary licenses both to drive on the interstates and soar at 12,000 feet.

More to the point, the legislation would allow it to be registered as a motorcycle, as it has only three wheels, though motorists would not need a motorcycle license or even to wear a helmet as the cabin is enclosed.

And while the base price for this two-seater brings it into the realm of some high-end luxury vehicles — about $170,000 according to Samson Sky for the basic model — all you can do right now is get in line. A company lobbyist said while there have been test flights, they’re still doing other necessary checks.

So think 2025.

At the heart of the issue is what is technically an “experimental aircraft,” a category that allows people to build their own airplanes and, with a pilot’s license, fly them. The idea is not new.

What is new is creating one that you also can drive on the ground and even park in your garage.

No, you won’t be able to take off from the street in front of your home — or, as George Jetson did, from your balcony. Federal rules still require you drive to an airport where a push of a button, extends the wings.

Ditto on landing. But rather than have to leave your “roadable aircraft” as it’s called at the airport, you can fold up the wings and drive to your destination.

And, again, unlike the Jetsons, it won’t compress into a briefcase.

But company lobbyist Russell Bousfield told lawmakers at a hearing this week that for many people it’s still more convenient than having to drive to an airport, buy a commercial ticket, go through security, fly to a destination and then have to rent a vehicle there.

Plus, he said, the vehicle is engineered to use standard 91-octane gasoline, meaning it can be refueled at any gas station.

Still, there are limits.

The cruising speed is about 160 miles an hour, with a top speed of 190. And the company is shooting to provide a flight range of more than 450 miles, more than enough time and fuel to get to California.

And on the ground?

“I’m not saying it’s legal to drive 130,” Bousfield told lawmakers. “But we can do 130.”

As to flying in bad weather, that $170,000 only gets an aircraft that can fly only under what the Federal Aviation Administration calls VFR, or “visual flight rules.” That means navigating by sight using things like roads and terrain. And it also means only daytime flights.

But to fly at night, into clouds or in bad weather, an aircraft needs to be capable of IFR, instrument flight rules, something requiring additional instrumentation. And that brings the price up to $195,000.

It also requires the pilot be certified to fly under IFR rules.

And there’s something else.

You won’t be able to just stop by your neighborhood Samson dealership and drive one off the lots. That’s because of that classification by the FAA as “experimental.”

The big advantage is the manufacturer doesn’t have to jump through all of the requirements to get “type certified,” something that can be expensive and take years.

But buying one of those aircraft generally requires less than an hour of flight testing before being delivered to a customer.

By contrast, anything built as an experimental aircraft needs 40 hours of of flight testing by the owner in a limited airspace before he or she can take off for anywhere else.

And that category also means it comes as a kit which, by law, has to be at least 51% constructed by the buyer. But company officials say they have “builder assist centers” where they can train people to operate the semi-automatic machinery thast produces the aircraft.

Members of the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Missing Children had lots of questions.

Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, asked about the performance of the vehicle in aircraft mode at the kind of temperatures there are in Arizona.

“We’ve tested our composites at lower temperatures,” Bousfield responded. “We haven’t conducted high-temperature testing of our composites.”

Then there are repair questions, like if it breaks down while on the road, can just any mechanic work on it.

“Some of these answers are a little bit into the future,” Bousfield said.

But he said one thing is clear: If you’re in a collision, even on the ground, forget about ever flying it again. Bousfield said it would no longer be considered “airworthy.”

And there were other doubts.

Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, questioned why Arizona should amend its law simply to accommodate the needs of a single company so it can sell its products here.

“I don’t like that,” he said, though he eventually voted to approve the measure.

That wasn’t the case with Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon.

“There’s going to be different types of vehicles,” said the Green Valley Democrat, not just what Samson is marketing right now. She said lawmakers need to craft something that deals with all types of flying cars yet to come.

“We’re making a decision today on something that we don’t understand in the future,” Gabaldon said. “It’s just too soon.”

And Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Tuba City, questioned how the vehicle was being classified.

“This right here doesn’t look like a motorcycle,” she said.

Still, the measure gained committee approval on a 4-2 party-line vote. It now needs Senate action.

And as to that question of whether we should have had flying cars by now, that depends on exactly when you think the Jetsons were zooming through the air.

Fans who watched the show in the 1960s have decided and posted on social media that they believe George Jetson was born — or, more to the point, scheduled to be born — on July 31, 2022. There was also the presumption, also based on nothing at all in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, that it took place 100 years from when the series started in 1962.

So that would have made Jetson about 40 at the time the show was supposed to represent. And that means we still have 38 more years to wait until everyone has access to the kind of flying car he got to pilot.