Is it the future yet?  Maybe so. Two flying cars are revving their engines and heading for the runway.  Or driveway, as the case may be. Mark Huffman takes a look:

A vehicle called the Personal Air and Land Vehicle or PAL-V, from a Dutch company of the same name, is setting out to prove that what many have considered a futuristic dream for decades could soon become a reality. The PAL-V is a gyrocopter, a lean, agile two-seater that can speed down motorways, launch from airstrips, and actually fly. New developments this month could have a huge impact on transportation planning for the future, as industry experts release more information on how “flying cars” could work in various countries around the world.

With its advanced rotor and propeller design, the PAL-V is easier to control than a helicopter; it can reach speeds above 100 miles per hour and launch from a short runway. Landing is also easy, and the safety of the design means that stalling out will not cause the vehicle to crash. The PAL-V can be flown under 4,000 feet in the air, meaning that it will take less training to operate and won’t interfere with more complicated air traffic. The company's detailed web site shows much more of the unique vehicle’s design, and lists U.S. schools that are currently preparing flight enthusiasts and others to be the “flying car pilots” of the future.

Although the oddly timed release of new announcements on the feasibility of the PAL-V and other flying car designs may have some thinking that the whole thing is just an April Fool’s joke, the planning and research behind the PAL-V gyrocopter is very real. The PAL-V company has been around since 2001, but its products are just now getting some lift, with current realtime testing underway and the International Flying Car Association or IFCA preparing global audiences for what they are going to see from companies like PAL-V in the very near future.

According to a recent Washington Post review, the PAL-V will likely be available commercially to U.S. customers sometime next year, at a price ballparked around $300,000.

Not airborne yet

Though it looks like researchers have finally figured out the effective design of these personal flyers, there’s still a long way to go before American drivers will be taking to the skies to avoid traffic jams, or jetting comfortably between the home and office. Preparing the U.S. for flying cars also means writing effective insurance policies and expanding the set of municipal laws and ordinances governing transportation.

In addition to PAL-V, an American company called Terrafugia is also promoting their new flying car design, the Transition, that looks much more like a small plane, with wings and a larger body. Many consider the FAA approval of the vehicle as a "light sport aircraft" to be a major coup, and expect that it will eventually translate into a relatively easy process for getting one of these models off the ground from small, local airstrips across the country.

Even if we can’t currently take our commutes airbound, PAL-V and Terrafugia are showing us what the flying cars of the future (now the near future rather than a utopian fantasy) will look like, and from there, the rest is more or less red tape. Look for more on these high-tech hybrids as their makers continue to work through the elaborate processes of changing how the world views the automobile.

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