Burt Rutan has designed a flying car, and it is no surprise that it’s unlike any other flying car that’s come before. It’s a hybrid.
The gasoline-electric twin-pod vehicle has a range of 760 miles in the air and 820 miles on the ground, and it works a bit like a Chevrolet Volt. Electric motors provide propulsion, while two gasoline engines drive generators that keep the juice flowing.
Design No. 367 — the craft is named in accordance with the simple numbering system long used by Rutan — was unveiled during the weekend after making its first short hop in the air on March 30. It is the legendary aerospace designer’s final project at Scaled Composites, the company he founded in 1982.
The Model 367 BiPod has a wingspan of 31 feet 10 inches. Tuck the removable wings between the pods and the car measures 7 feet 11 inches, so it fits into a one-car garage.
One twist on the problem facing flying car designers over the years is how the vehicle is controlled. The Model 367 BiPod is flown from the right pod and driven from the left. It is not the first Rutan design aircraft to buck the aviation tradition of being piloted from the left seat.
The final design is expected to feature a pair of 450 cc four stroke engines, one in each pod. Similar to the Chevrolet Volt (and a hybrid electric airplane from Siemens/EADS), the engines will power a pair of generators that power the electric motors. Four 15 kilowatt (20 horsepower) motors will spin the props (not yet installed) in the air, while two 15 kilowatt motors will turn the wheels on the road.
Scaled Composites Model 367 BiPod in car configuration.
Lithiium-ion batteries in the nose of each pod will provide power during take off and an emergency backup for landing. With a cruising speed of 100 mph, Scaled Composites says the BiPod 367 would have a range of 760 miles. It can do 200 mph if you’re in a hurry, but that cuts the range to 530 miles.
Out on the road, this roadable aircraft, which carries 18 gallons of fuel, is expected to have a driving range of 820 miles. It has a claimed electric-only range of 35 miles.
So far the BiPod has made just a few short hops in ground effect down a runway in Mojave, California. Engineers have not installed the electric flight motors or propellers, and the air time came after using the drive wheels to accelerate.
The project is reminiscent of Rutan’s early days of designing small and efficient aircraft such as the Long-EZ (model 61). The project started as an in-house electric aircraft testbed, then evolved into a hybrid flying car, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The project gave many of the young engineers at Scaled a chance to work with Rutan before his retirement. Many of them volunteered their weekends to meet the tight schedule, which saw the airplane take to the air just four months after preliminary design.
A design drawing of the BiPod showing motor placement for flight.
Scaled Composites president Doug Shane says the project was developed internally but the company is showing off the BiPod to see if there’s any interest from potential customers.
“We’re open as to what the options might be,” Shane says.
Don’t get too excited about seeing blueprints, plans or factory support like we did with Rutan’s first company, the Rutan Aircraft Factory. Shane says Scaled Composites “is not in the business of building roadable aircraft, or kits.”
Rutan and the company found a partner in Paul Allen to develop SpaceShipOne (model 316), the first civilian spacecraft. Perhaps they can find a partner to bring the long held dream of the flying car into reality.
The BiPod taxis as a Rutan designed Long-EZ and WhiteKnightTwo fly over head.
Burt Rutan (fourth from left) and the Scaled Composites crew pose in front of his final project at the company.
Photos: Scaled Composites