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Who hasn’t sat helplessly marooned in bumper-to-bumper traffic and daydreamed, ”What if I could press a button and instantly transform this car into a helicopter?” Indulging in a bit of high-tech wish fulfillment, engineers at the Dutch firm Spark Design Engineering have created just such a flying car. Their three-wheeled personal air and land vehicle, or PAL-V, needs just 50 meters to take off and 5 meters to land and come to a complete stop, so it takes off like a plane and lands like a helicopter. Once the shape-shifting machine’s foldaway rotor and propeller are extended, its 159-kilowatt (213-horsepower) engine, which runs on regular gasoline, can provide enough thrust to get the 540-kilogram personal aircraft airborne. Though Spark is still seeking the capital that will allow it to go from a one-off prototype to small-volume production, the company is confident that the flying car will eventually cost no more than a high-end sedan of the type corporate car services use to shuttle executives—putting private jet ownership within the reach of the masses.

It’s easy to see why the team at Spark is optimistic about its plans to put just about everyone behind the wheel (or throttle, as the case may be) of a transforming car. Just about anyone could fly one: the requirements for obtaining a license to fly a PAL-V will be less exacting than those for operating a helicopter or plane. Spark says that in the United States, for instance, a PAL-V operator will have to hold only the newly created sport pilot certification, which requires 20 hours of flight instruction. An airline pilot, on the other hand, must have 1500 hours under his or her belt before taking the helm of a passenger jet. And driver-pilots will not have to file flight plans because they are restricted to the airspace below 1500 meters. So it’s not hard to imagine the disastrous consequences of allowing these contraptions to take to the skies en masse in part because there could be hundreds of these ”Jetsons cars” in the air at any one time, flying about willy-nilly. Plus any strip mall parking lot could do double duty as an ad hoc airstrip. And, of course, it’s another flying car and we all know how successful that category of vehicles has been over the years.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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