There was a ray of hope recently for those who are looking forward to a car that’s a bit more Blade Runnery as Terrafugia's Transition flying car
made its first public flights at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. There, the Terrafugia team conducted two 20-minute flight demonstrations and also showed off the capability for the Transition's wings to be folded up so it can be driven about like a car.
Although countless small companies have tried to commercially develop flying cars
over the past several decades, we’re still not seeing Blade Runner
-esque vehicles cruising over our rooftops ... yet. Terrafugia is one of the groups currently trying to change that situation – a fully-functioning prototype of its Transition
fixed-wing “roadable airplane” is currently undergoing flight tests, and was recently cleared for civilian use by the US Federal Aviation Authority. It still requires a runway for take-off and landing, though, which kind of clashes with many peoples’ flying car fantasies. Well, today Terrafugia announced its plans for a hybrid-drive vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) vehicle, known as the TF-X.
Six years after the initial announcement
that Terrafugia, Inc. would develop a "roadable airplane", the Transition has completed the first phase of flight testing. The flight testing, carried out at Plattsburgh International Airport in northern New York State, assessed the light sport aircraft's full performance envelope. The Transition prototype was reported to perform "exceptionally well", allowing the testing to be carried out quickly.
Of all the “flying car”-type vehicles currently in development, Terrafugia’s Transition Street-Legal Airplane
is quite likely the one that’s closest to actual commercial availability. Yesterday, the New York-based company announced that on March 23rd, one of two production prototypes of the vehicle successfully completed its maiden flight.
The company behind the first FAA approved "roadable aircraft" – the Terrafugia Transition
– has been selected to contribute to DARPA's Transformer (TX) Project
, a program that aims to bring flying car technology to the battlefield. Terrafugia will subcontract to one of two winning teams under phase one of the program which focuses on creating a conceptual design for a four person cross between a Humvee and a helicopter for use in insurgency, reconnaissance, medical evacuation and logistical supply.
Terrafugia has released specifications and computer graphics of its next generation flying-car
design. The company made use of the world's biggest aviation industry platform – AirVenture 2010
– to detail the future shape of its Transition Roadable Aircraft
which sports automotive-style crash safety features, a touch-screen interface, improved wing design and a folding mechanism that can be activated from inside the vehicle... plus sleeker lines than the proof of concept vehicle we've seen previously.
Flying cars are back in the news this week with the Terrafugia Transition gaining FAA certification
as a road-registerable aircraft. Exciting stuff, but the Transition doesn't quite satisfy our fantasies of being able to just press a button and lift off out of traffic, landing on the roof of our city office building to make that 9am meeting; it's basically a light plane with retractable wings that you can drive on the road – you're still stuck taking off and landing at airstrips. So here's a quick look over what else is out there and in development in the world of flying cars and motorcycles … with a bonus look at some personal flying saucers, a flying boat and a few concepts that will never
get off the ground.
Is this the first viable flying car
? It's a question we posed back in 2006 when we first looked at the prototype Terrafugia Transition
. It now looks like the answer is yes. The flying car (or “roadable aircraft,” as the Massachusetts-based company prefers), can fly like a regular plane and land at an airport before folding up its wings and hitting the road. In car mode, it can travel at highway speeds and park in regular parking spots. Terrafugia had been hoping the Transition could be classified as a light sport aircraft, as a sport pilot’s license is considerably easier to get than a regular private pilot’s license. Unfortunately, it was proving impossible to meet all the road safety requirements, while still keeping the vehicle weight under the 1,320-pound limit for a light sport aircraft. Well, it has just been announced that the US Federal Aviation Authority will make an exception for the Transition, and allow it to squeak in at 1,430 pounds. Things are looking up for this little aeromobile.
An interesting new flying car is being launched this week at Oshkosh. The Transition is a Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) designed to make general aviation more practical for personal transportation. From start-up company Terrafugi, the Transition drives like a car on public roads and can transition into an aircraft at the nearest airport by lowering its 27-foot wings and taking off. As an aircraft it has a top speed of 130mph, a range of 500 miles and can carry a payload of 430 pounds. One stop gives you over a thousand miles of range inside eight hours. Then you land and fold up the wings and you’re back on the road. As Terrafugia Chief Operating Officer Anna Mracek explains, deposits are being taken at Oshkosh, “our anticipated purchase price is $148k, and a deposit of 5% of that anticipated price will secure your place in line, but not guarantee that exact price.” The Transition delivers 30 mpg in either car or plane mode and promises a true integrated roadable aircraft at an economically compelling price. A prototype is being constructed and deliveries will start in 2009. The Transition will be capable of driving at normal highway speeds, flying at speeds that approach the light sport aircraft limit, and park in a standard garage. The CEO and CTO of Terrafugia is Carl Dietrich – note that name as he’s been incredibly impressive in everything he’s ever attempted and this is an ambitious play. Carl will receive his PhD from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics this year. Carl received both his SB and SM degrees from the same department, winning all four out of four design competitions available to him then the golden globe for entrepreneurs, the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize which annually recognizes one student for outstanding innovations.