Why aren't we flying to work?
By Marshall Brain
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Anyone who has watched the Jetsons knows how we are supposed to get to work in the 21st century. We are supposed to by flying around. No worries about traffic, no problems with rush hour. Plus, it would be fast.
That brings up the obvious question: Why don't we all use personal helicopters instead of personal automobiles to get around town in 2007? Last week I had the chance to find out. I spent the day with Blake Moore of Air Atlanta Helicopters. We flew for a couple of hours while shooting a set of videos on how helicopters work. It was an eye opening experience. The comparison between today's helicopters and today's cars is remarkable.
As an example, let's use the Honda Civic as a "typical car." A Civic holds four passengers with ease, maybe five in a pinch, and has space in the trunk for luggage. It is a reliable, economical car. It costs between $15,000 and $20,000 depending on the options you get, and it weighs about 2,700 pounds.
At Air Atlanta we were flying in a Robinson R-44. The R-44 holds four passengers. Five would be a stretch. There is no trunk, but you can attach luggage pods on the outside of the helicopter. Even though an R-44 weighs 1,440 pounds, or about half as much as the Civic, it costs 15 times more. That's right - the typical cost of an R-44 is between $300,000 and $400,000 depending on the options. If you want to add air conditioning to an R-44, it costs about as much as a new Honda Civic. Yes, helicopters are expensive.
To put this into perspective, a new Honda Civic costs about $6.50 a pound. A new R-44 costs about $240 per pound. That huge difference is one big reason why we aren't flying to work every day.
Another thing to think about is gas mileage. A Honda Civic traveling at 60 MPH uses about one and a half gallons of gas every hour. And that gas costs $3 per gallon. The R-44 can fly twice as fast, but it burns about 15 gallons of gas every hour, and aviation gas costs $6 per gallon. This means that it costs seven and a half cents per mile to fuel the Civic, while it takes 75 cents per mile - 10 times as much - to fuel the R-44. A full tank of gas costs $30 for the Civic, while it costs nearly $300 for the R-44, and both vehicles can go about 400 miles per tank. That is one expensive fill-up!
Then there's insurance. The R-44 costs 20 times more than the Civic, so you would naturally expect for insurance to cost at least 20 times more. But Civics can't fall from the sky, so insurance on the R-44 is even more expensive than you might imagine. Figure about $25,000 per year as a starting point.
And there's maintenance. On an R-44, you have to do a complete factory rebuild at 2,200 hours, and there are also 100-hour inspections. The rebuild is a six-figure affair. Therefore, the maintenance cost of a helicopter can be astronomical compared to a car - approaching $100 per hour of flight time.
And finally, let's not forget the actual act of piloting a helicopter. To control a car you have a steering wheel along with the accelerator/brake pedals. Since a helicopter gives the pilot complete access to three dimensions, the controls are a good bit more complex. There is a joystick called the cyclic that tells the helicopter to fly forward, backward or sideways. There is a lever called the collective that tells the helicopter to go up and down. There is a throttle that works like the twist grip on a motorcycle. And there are two foot pedals to control the tail rotor. Lessons are expensive. For the price of your helicopter pilot license, you could buy a new Honda Civic.
So now we can go back to the initial question: Why aren't we flying to work in our own personal helicopters? Because it's way, way too expensive. Right now, most of us can't afford the cost of a helicopters gas, much less the purchase price of a helicopter and the cost of maintenance and insurance. It will probably be a few more decades before we are flying to work.
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