The flying car

The flying car

Innovations emerge at the edges, in unobserved corners, driven forward in small workshops on the outskirts of the city, fulfilling the wishes of enthusiasts. The fourth part of our series on the future of mobility shows how even the myth of the flying car can become reality.

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The flying car

If you are wondering what new types of vehicles there might be for individual transport, when we already have everything from cars to electric bicycles in an enormous variety of types, you should look around in the niches. The government should look for small, sometimes homogeneous user groups whose needs can be met even more optimally than before. because innovations are born on the margins, in unobserved corners, driven forward in small workshops on the outskirts of the city, fulfilling the wishes of enthusiasts. The fourth part of our series on the future of mobility illustrates how even the myth of the flying car can become reality.

one of the biggest mistakes companies can make when developing new products is choosing the wrong target audience. Michael werner, on the other hand, knows his customers very well. one of the most common mistakes observers make when evaluating innovations is to think of themselves as potential buyers. The flying car, dear readers, but is not made for you. At least not for the vast majority of them.

Hardly any other technical vision is surrounded by so many myths. Hardly one is more eagerly awaited and at the same time more vehemently rejected. Both sides thrive on a strange mix of ignorance and unbelief, fed by the above misconceptions. When the term "flying car" is mentioned, everyone immediately has the image of conventional cars taking to the skies at the push of a button and simply flying over traffic jams. What would be a great idea from one perspective is technically unfeasible and far too dangerous from another. Flying in a car, as hollywood teaches in blade runner, fifth element or star wars, is like driving on the road, only without the road.

pictures of this kind only hinder designers like michael werner in their work instead of supporting them. Too quickly you either get the smell of being an unworldly crank who wastes his time and money chasing unrealizable dreams. Or one is confronted with unfulfillable expectations that can only turn into disappointment. the flying car is a kind of perpetual motion machine in the vehicle industry.

Michael werner builds it anyway. He took years to think carefully about how it would work and what it would need to do to appeal to a sharply defined customer base.

Its history begins in 1993. At that time, he ran a sporting goods store and traded in surfboards, mountain bikes and skateboards. it was the time when paragliding experienced its first boom in germany. You plunge from the slopes of the low mountain ranges and the Alps into the depths of the mountains. But in the north german plain, where michael werner lives, there are no mountains. In order to be able to take off anyway, he invented the backpack engine. Like astrid lindgren’s karlsson from the roof, you simply strap the engine and propeller to your back. The screen spread out on the floor is lifted by the airflow as soon as the device is switched on. Then you start running and take off after a few meters. the idea became popular and michael werner sold his store to found fresh breeze in 1994, a company dedicated entirely to paramotoring. Today, with 17 employees, he is the world market leader in this segment. the backpack engines were followed by the trikes. Three-wheeled vehicles in which you can take off, fly and land again in comfort. werner designed one of his models as a bicycle that can be moved on the ground by muscle power via pedals and chain drive. Another one is registered as a car trailer, equipment of a hobby for enthusiasts. On days off, whenever the weather permits, they transport their trike by car to the nearest flying site, deploy the glider, switch on the engine and fly a few laps over the landscape at moderate speeds of around 70 km/h. It’s fun. A few thousand people worldwide use the products of fresh breeze. They fly in circles for fun, but that’s all they can do. Because when it gets dark or the weather deteriorates, you have to go back to where the car is parked.

Overcoming this limitation is michael werner’s goal. It needs a trike that not only flies, but can also travel on all roads – from dirt tracks to highways. This gives his customers a new flexibility. Innovations don’t solve problems (the traffic jam), they create new opportunities (for paraglider pilots).

The "xdreeme" device is almost finished and is currently undergoing the approval process. The legal hurdles for the road are far higher than those for the air. The photo shows the current state of the series model, which has already covered several thousand kilometers, flying and riding. The fairing is still provisional, but will soon be replaced by light but strong parts made of composite materials with a high-quality surface. The rest of the technology stands. when i visited michael werner in his workshop a few days ago, they were working on the positioning of the rearview mirrors. The innovations in this vehicle are too numerous for a detailed description. Chassis and shock absorbers, steering and brakes, everything has been rethought and optimized over and over again. The heart of the aircraft is the engine, which drives either the rear wheels or the propeller via an equally newly developed gearbox. With two engines, the weight limits for an ultralight aircraft would have been exceeded.

It doesn’t look like a car, but it is one. With 150 horsepower, the xdreeme easily reaches 200 kilometers per hour on the highway and attracts astonished looks during the test drives, because its acceleration capacity is enormous due to its low weight. In the air, the vehicle is not nearly as fast because of its unfavorable aerodynamics. But 80 to 100 km/h are enough for a significant time saving, because you save yourself detours and traffic jams. Depending on the tank size selected, the range is 300 to 500 kilometers. Two persons with small luggage can be transported.

A weekend trip to the north sea island? A quick stop at the home of relatives or acquaintances? You drive with the xdreeme to the next airfield, take the glider out of its bag on the roof, set up the propeller cage, fold up the propeller and fly away. Even inexperienced users should not need more than five minutes for this conversion. In case of emergency, the rescue system helps by opening a second canopy powered by a rocket, by which the whole vehicle floats safely to the ground. Otherwise you just fly as close as you can to your actual destination, land, repack the glider and cover the rest of the distance on the road.

the flying car is not a car that mostly drives and sometimes flies. It is a flying machine that occasionally uses the road as well. So that hobby pilots are not limited to flying in circles for fun, but can also fulfill actual mobility requirements. The xdreeme is aimed at all customers who already own a trike from freshbreeze. And first of all to nobody else. Three hundred pre-orders have already been received, and if nothing else comes up, mass production and delivery will begin in november.

This is how innovation works even in seemingly saturated and differentiated markets. It starts with the sharp definition of the target group in a niche segment and the answer to the question of what else can be offered to them in the way of attractive, new options. The technical line of development is then, with all its complexity, largely predetermined. The solution is created by extending an existing system with established technologies from other areas. The flying car does not appear as a revolution of our mobility systems in one step and changes all the rules. the flying car sprouts in an unobserved corner and adapts to the environment. It thrives within existing legislation from airfield constraints to emission regulations, it uses existing infrastructures and requires neither expansion nor new construction.

Many a user who buys an xdreeme will proudly show it off to friends and acquaintances. Some may be inspired to also acquire a UL license to become a paraglider pilot. For now it is sometimes even really useful. Some will ask themselves if and how the device can be improved even further. And many a creative mind will ponder whether and how such a flying car could not be implemented in a different way. This is how it always started. In retrospect, all advances that appear to us as powerful upheavals began with a small impulse in a small workshop on the outskirts of town, improved and spread only slowly through the feedback between users and developers, until they conquered larger markets seemingly suddenly and without warning. The flying car will not be an exception.

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Christina Cherry
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