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Funding a Flying Car

By Bill Moore

Skype video interview with Robert Dingemanse, CEO of PAL-V Europe, creators of a new 'flying car.' It's not electric, but it sure is cool.

The PAL-V isn't a concept. It's not some Photoshopped illusion. It isn't a slick CGI-rendered animation. It is the real deal.

And as PAL-V Europe NV CEO Robert Dingemanse likes to point out, it is a flying car, not a plane that drives: there is a difference.

When I was first told about it by a friend in Germany who is trying to help the little Dutch start-up raise the second half of its $20 million B round of funding, I wasn't particularly interested. After all, there is nothing about it that is EV world-relevant. It's powered by a Wankel engine burning gasoline. And while Dingemanse says they did consider various electric-drive options, they simply couldn't justify the added weight of either electric hub motors or batteries.

Still, the pilot in me (I have a 125 hours and private pilot's ticket), wanted to learn more since there was something familiar about the two-seater, but I couldn't my finger on it.

It was during the our 28-minute conversation from Dingemanse's home in the Netherlands that he made the connection for me. There is, in fact, an indirect connection with EVs; it's the 'car' part of the vehicle. It's based on the Carver leaning motorcycle that briefly caused a stir a decade ago and then sank in to obscurity, only to reemerge, butterfly-like as the PAL-V. There was talk back then of an electric version of the Carver.

It turns out that the engineer behind the PAL-V had been wrestling with the idea of a flying car -- which is a quest nearly as old as the Wright Brothers -- for years until he saw the Carver. It was the answer to his problem. He would mate their streamlined, enclosed three-wheeler motorcycle with decades-old gyrocopter technology, probably the safest and easiest to fly rotor wing aircraft out there. From that concept, he and a partner network that now includes some 15 organizations, along with support from the Dutch government, created the flying prototype (video here).

That's phase one of the project that Dingemanse oversees as the CEO. Previously he had managed new technology projects for Phillips.

The PAL-V is currently designed to fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), which means, for now, under 4,000 feet, although military organizations are asking the company about IFR (instrument flight rule) capabilities. Dingemanse sees a potential market to build 1,000-2,000 craft annually with potential buyers ranging from wealthy consumers (each base model will run around $300,000) to governments and businesses. With a maximum cruising speed of 110 mph both in the air and on the ground, PAL-V drivers don't have to be stuck waiting for weather to clear at the airport. In 10-minutes, the gyrocopter is a car again and they can drive back home, if need be.

Clearly it's a very cool project, one that could be made even better once we get batteries -- zinc-air, lithium-air -- with energy and volumetric densities comparable to gasoline. In the interim, Dingemanse sees biodiesel as a future sustainable fuel option and maybe hydrogen. But for now, job one for him is to raise the next round of capital, and he's looking to expand his search beyond Europe to North America and Asia. So, if like Apple, you've got some cash parked in some offshore account that you'd like to take a 'flier' on, maybe give Robert a ring.

Skype Video Part 1

Skype Video Part 2

Times Article Viewed: 6253
Originally published: 31 May 2013

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