Renate Mueller was having one of those moments. Leaving a show at Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden, she didn’t have the $25 in cash needed to retrieve her Bentley GTC from the valet. And the nearby ATM machine was out of order.
It was a moment that would lead her to become the first Canadian to order the world’s first truly commercial flying car – the PAL-V Liberty.
As Mueller pondered her parking dilemma, two men who noticed she was wearing a Bentley “Best of British” shirt struck up a conversation and offered the money to retrieve her car. She returned the favour by offering to drive them to the airport, but again needed their help when she had to pay cash to buy fuel.
“I think we’ve been scammed by a lady in a Bentley,” she remembers one of them joking.
A friendship was born. A round of golf was booked. And Mueller learned that the two men were senior executives of Netherlands-based PAL-V – Andre Voskuil, vice-president of business development, North America, and Mark Jennings-Bates, vice-president of sales, North America.
Little did they suspect what the long-time Vancouver businesswoman had planned next.
“It was at a subsequent lunch, she looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m really annoyed with you,’” Jennings-Bates recalls. “’I have a birthday coming up and I’m going to buy myself a flying car. Why haven’t you tried to sell me one?’”
“I said, ‘No problem at all,’” he says.
The PAL-V Liberty is a two-seat, three-wheeled car/gyrocopter that folds up for travelling on roads, and then opens up to become airborn. In road mode, the Italian-styled Franken-car looks like something out of Transformers. Spread out to take flight, it looks like a grasshopper in steel and carbon.
Unveiled at the recent Geneva Motor Show, the PAL-V Liberty is one of only three serious flying cars in development, Jennings-Bates says. If regulatory approvals stay on track, deliveries will start by 2020, well ahead of the two competitors – AeroMobil (based in Slovakia) and Terrafugia, now owned by Geely, of China.
PAL-V has been in discussion with the lead regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) since 2008, as well as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada. With the requirement to complete 140 hours of pilot testing, PAL-V is close to having “the last piece of the puzzle” in place to bring the vehicles to market.
Because it is a three-wheeled vehicle, the Liberty is not technically classified as a car in Canada – but rather as a motorbike – and does not need to comply with the crash-testing required of automobiles. Yet three wheels are actually safer than four for aircraft when landing in strong crosswinds, Jennings-Bates says.
Mueller is eager to get her new car.
“I love the PAL-V,” she says. “It’s my favourite, favourite car in the world.”
“When I saw it at the Geneva Auto Show, I fell in love with it,” she says. “It looks good as a car and it looks good as a gyrocopter.”
At her recent birthday party, Mueller revealed to friends her decision to buy the car, and left them “a little bit in shock.”
Weighing roughly 664 kilograms, the PAL-V can carry up to an additional 246 kilograms of people and cargo, and with its 200-horsepower aircraft engine, can cruise as far as 500 kilometres at the “economy” cruising speed of 140 km/h. Speed maxes out at 180 km/h and since it’s actually a gyrocopter and not a helicopter, it requires a 330-metre runway (or field) to take off.
“I tell my friends, ’I can take off on a Par 3 and land on a Par 4,’” says Mueller, an avid golfer.
Only 25 Special Edition Libertys will be sold in North America (and just 90 around the world), and they won’t be cheap. With a price tag of US$599,000, currency exchange rates put a model in Canada at close to $1-million. The subsequent Sport model will be offered for US$399,000.
And there is no shortage of people looking to buy the PAL-V. “Today, what we’re seeing is very wealthy people who have an adventurous appetite, and they just say ‘Sure,’” Jennings-Bates says. “They don’t even ask any questions, frankly. They just say, ‘Can I just have one? Can you get one for me? And I’ll have one for the wife as well.’ So it’s very difficult to pin down psychographic profiles of the buyers.”
Mueller, a self-made entrepreneur working in mergers and acquisitions, admits the price is substantial, even for someone of means. She is confident that if she chooses not to get her flying licence (flight training is included with each purchase) that she can sell her new toy to a willing Vancouverite. In her “test flight” in a simulator, she touched the plane down successfully – and then rolled it.
In spite of the price, however, Jennings-Bates says the PAL-V can be quite functional, especially in business applications that require both road and air travel. One potential client, he says, offers support for a pig-farming operation and needs the flexibility the Liberty offers.
Mueller says she could use her Liberty to fly to some of her project locations in British Columbia. “There are small airports all over the lower mainland,” she says.
Mueller knows she’s on the leading edge with her order of the PAL-V, which she sees as the future of transportation.