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IMAGINE a world without traffic jams, where 100 mile journeys take less than 20 minutes and you're never short of a parking space.

If that sounds too good to be true, how about a car which drives itself, allowing you to sit back and read or eat as you travel?

And just for good measure, you'll never have to change a flat tyre in the rain again.

Thanks to an obsessive American inventor, such a dream vehicle like the famous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang driven by Dick Van Dyke in the children's movie, is almost a reality.

Within weeks, Paul Moller and his colleagues will carry out a test "drive" of the world's first flying car.

New Scientist magazine reveals that behind close doors at a discreet California warehouse, the Skycar will hover two metres above the ground for a minute before landing again.

It will mark the culmination of more than 30 years of blood, sweat and inspiration for Moller, who first dreamed of creating the car back in 1963.

The Skycar may well sound like the sort of thing created by James Bond's colleague Q, but the team behind it believe it will be the answer to the world's traffic problems.

The vertical take-off vehicle will be able to carry four people at 370mph, and will get 20 miles to the gallon.

Initially, the vehicle developed by Moller International will be controlled by the pilot but further development is being carried out to allow the Skycar to be run by computer.

Like the transporters from the sci-fi movie Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford, Skycars will glide above gridlocked roads, and will, says Moller, change the nature of cities and the lifestyles of people who live in and around them.

The high speed of the vehicle will mean people can easily commute hundreds of miles per day.

The hi-tech Skycar was inspired, not by science fiction but by hummingbirds which fascinated young Paul Moller as he grew up on a California farm.

He began building vertical take-off and landing vehicles in 1963, while teaching at the University of California.

His first attempt was a flying saucer-like craft which, although it could take off, was too unstable to fly. After creating another prototype, Moller realised what a successful flying car needed was power - and plenty of it.

It was then, in 1965, that he began developing a new style of engine. It had to be small, powerful, and lightweight.

In 1989, he had his first real taste of success when he came up with the two- passenger vehicle the M200X, which he has flown more than 150 times at heights of up to 20 metres.

Moller said: "It truly is a magic carpet ride because you are sitting on top of it and it lifts you up."

The Skycar - M400 - takes a massive technological leap forward from its predecessor.

Its distinctive design is the result of hundreds of hours of testing in wind tunnels. The car's shape means every part of it helps generate lift as it flies.

There are eight engines so that, even if one or more fail, the vehicle will still fly.

And if the worst comes to the worst, there's a parachute.

A spokesman for Moller said: "Lets compare the M400 Skycar with what's available now, the automobile.

"Take the most technologically advanced automobiles, the Ferrari, Porsche,Maserati, Lamborghini, or the more affordable Accord, or the like. It seems like all of the manufacturers of these cars are toting the new and greatly improved 'aerodynamics' of their cars. Those in aerospace industry have been dealing with aerodynamics from the start.

"In the auto industry they boast of aerodynamics, performance tuned wide track suspensions, electronic ignition and fuel injection systems.

"What good does all this 'advanced engineering' do for you when the speed limit is around 60 mph and you are stuck on crowded motorways anyway?

"Can any automobile give you this scenario? From your garage to your destination, the M400 Skycar cruises comfortably at 350+ mph at 15 miles per gallon.

"No traffic, no red lights, no speeding tickets. Just quiet direct transportation from A to point B in a fraction of the time.

"No matter how you look at it the automobile is only an interim step on our evolutionary path to independence from gravity. That's all it will ever be."

Although the company boasts the Skycar will eventually cost the same as an executive car, it will be a while before most people can afford one.

The first ones to go on sale in America will cost a cool $1million.

Motorists could have to pay pounds 1 to drive into Edinburgh next year under a plan being considered by city leaders. The city could become one of the first in Europe to introduce full-scale road pricing to fund a multi-million pound investment in public transport.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 27, 1999
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