Flying car? Well, the Terrafugia Transition is more like a plane that drives, but it's damn cool looking and has cleared another hurdle on its way to becoming street and sky legal. The Federal Aviation Administration granted a special weight exemption to the Terrafugia Transition, allowing it to meet safety standards for road travel. The car-plane includes features like airbags, crumple zones, and a safety cage. What does a plane whose wings fold up so that you can drive on the highway cost you? Nearly $200,000. That's a hefty bill, but according to the Associated Press, Terrafugia already has 70 orders with deposits. The Massachusetts based company is looking to deliver those planes, and more, by the end of 2011. Check out the Transition conquer land and sky in the video montage from Terrafugia below.
People have been dreaming about flying cars pretty much since the Model T first rolled off the assembly line. Aviation, however, is much more difficult that driving on the road, and equipping cars for take-off is probably a recipe for a new generation of fatal traffic accidents. The better solution seems to be to make light craft airplanes more mobile, allowing trained amateur pilots to travel to and from the airstrip in the same vehicle they fly in. We've already seen a plane with folding wings that can fit in your garage. The Terrafugia Transition takes the idea to the next level, folding its wings and transforming into a street-legal automobile. DARPA is looking at a similar tactic, trying to create a light weight airplane-car transformer that will spend most of its time on the ground rather than the air. It seems very likely that we'll see these car-planes in the sky in the years ahead.
What will light-weight planes that can drive actually mean for the general population? Not much. The Transition's price tag is simply too steep for your average family. But there are features of the plane which could translate to cheaper versions which may arise later. For example, the Transition runs on standard unleaded fuel, getting about 30 mpg on the road, making it cheap to drive and fly. The automated wings, which fold up in just 30 seconds, could work in other models of the vehicle. The Transition's recent weight exemption from the FAA (allowing it to weigh up to 1430 lbs or 650 kg) demonstrates that not only will regulators be interested in working with car-plane developers, but that such vehicles can put all the required equipment for both means of travel in one compact space. In a way, the Transition serves as a proof of concept for the genre of vehicle as a whole.
If Terrafugia has success with the Transition, it wouldn't surprise me if someone made a cheaper version. Eventually, these car-planes may serve as the ultimate commuter vehicle allowing you to travel from home to airstrip to airstrip to work a hundred miles away. Yet as cool as these car-planes may be, I have my doubts as to whether they will ever fill our skies. By the time that costs would come down, and interest for pilot training increase, we may also have automated cars and highways - probably a cheaper and easier option. Tele-commuting technology may advance even faster than either and reduce traffic by leaps and bounds. Large investments in a commuting vehicle would be silly at that point. There are few things as exhilarating to watch in action as a flying car, and few things as impractical either. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we simply don't need flying cars....but I still want one.