Will flying cars start showing up on the road?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

People have been dreaming of flying cars for decades. The Aerocar made its first flight in 1949; however, it never entered production manufacturing. The Terrafugia Transition recently passed a significant milestone when it was cleared for takeoff by the U.S. National Highway Safety Administration. Does this mean flying cars will soon start appearing on the roads? To clarify, these vehicles are not flying cars in so much as they are roadable light sport aircraft – in essence, they are aircraft that could be considered legal to drive on the streets. The approximately $230,000 price tag is also more indicative of an aircraft rather than an automobile.

The Transition incorporates automotive safety features such as a purpose-built energy absorbing crumple zone, a rigid carbon fiber occupant safety cage, and automotive-style driver and passenger airbags. According to the company, the Transition can take off or land at any public use general aviation airport with at least 2,500′ of runway. On the ground, the Transition can be driven on any road and parked in a standard parking space or household garage. The wings can fold and be stowed vertically on the sides of the vehicle in less than 30 seconds. Pilots will need a Sport Pilot license to fly the vehicle, which requires a minimum of 20 hours of flight time and passing a simple practical test in the aircraft. Drivers will also need a valid driver’s license for use on the ground.

So what makes this vehicle different from the many earlier, and unsuccessful, attempts at bringing a flying car or roadable aircraft to market? In addition to relying on modern engines and composite materials, this vehicle benefits from computer-based avionics. Are modern embedded systems sufficiently advanced and powerful enough to finally push the dream of a roadable aircraft into reality within the next few years? Or will such a dual-mode vehicle make more sense only after automobiles are better able to drive themselves around on the ground? While the $230,000 price tag will limit how many people can gain access to one of these vehicles (if they make it to production), I wonder if aircraft flying into homes will become an issue. Is this just another pipe dream, or are things different this time around that such a vehicle may start appearing on our roads?

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10 Responses to “Will flying cars start showing up on the road?”

  1. C.S. @ LI says:

    Highly doubtful:

    Before the “flying car” will become a reality, they will have to set up an air traffic control system for the “flying car”. That will be a nightmare. I suspect hgh-speed transit (i.e. trains), etc., will become the more popular first.


  2. A.T. @ LI says:

    The outcome of this generation watching too many Jetsons episodes as kids. People stuck in the left lane, which is a significant percentage of US drivers, operate a vehicle in 1D – how do you expect them to transition to 3D, let alone 4D (time)? At 265MPH (my plane’s speed), complex tasks come at you awfully fast, even in good weather. Drain your brain at work? Don’t fly afterwards.

  3. A.L. @ LI says:

    At a time when energy prices are going through the roof and the environmental impact of human activity is completely out of control, quite frankly this is the wrong question.

  4. B.K. @ LI says:

    Surely they are off-road vehicles. But we’d need the equivalent if shipping lanes in the air to do it. Would probably require autonomic controls to keep you in the right lane. And how do you make it fail safe?

  5. R.Y. @ LI says:

    Let me summarize:
    1. Has to be extremely fuel economic.
    2. Air Traffic management, which is already a challenge for aircrafts.
    3. Need special expertise/certification to ride (this will hit popularity)
    4. Last but not the least, cost of manufacturing as it is like making a small chartered plane with more complexity (more complexity since it has to be a car too).

    So next 20 years we may not see it happening.

  6. A.L. @ LI says:

    As far as fuel economy goes there are some basic laws of physics to keep in
    mind. You are having to lift something that weighs of the order of a Tonne
    (and is all the heavier because it has to have wings, rotor blades or
    whatever) through several hundred or even thousand feet and keep it there
    against the force of gravity. This takes significant amounts of energy and
    that significantly affects fuel economy. Set against that is the
    elimination of rolling resistance from tyres and (perhaps) savings from not
    wasting fuel while stuck in traffic jams, but basically a flying car is
    highly unlikely to be as fuel efficient as one that stays on the ground.


    A. L.

  7. J.D. @ LI says:

    This is a very interesting question.

    The concept in place now is that rules that apply to a car in flight would be no different than those that apply to an aircraft. We already have an air traffic control system that would apply right now to any “flying car”, as the pilot chooses to use it.

    The flying car would use local airports, and standard VFR/IFR communication / navigation equipment, as required/permitted to the pilot. The “George Jetson” scenario is not envisioned by proponents at this point, getting the technology built is the first key.

    Concerning fuel economy, electric and electric-hybrid aircraft design is in process now; Cessna is currently developing both, the electric-only version (a modified Cessna 172) started taxi tests this week.

    Scaled Composites (a company founded by Burt Rutan, for those that don’t know of him please wikipedia) unveiled a “roadable airplane” @ Airventure / Oshkosh this week. This aircraft is based on the same powerplant as the Chevy Volt, and is designed to be as efficient on the ground as the road-bound version (44-mpg).

    Concerning the original question, the Terrafugia is a neat vehicle. The company is based in a town close to me; I was able to see it on display @ a local airport a couple of years ago. I have not heard positive comments about its flight characteristics, but presumably that will improve. The price will come down, as interest rises.

    Granted, all these efforts are very preliminary, but the arguments by the posters above will be overcome, I feel in certainly much less than 20 years.

    I am an IFR-certified pilot, who flies just for fun about 30-40 hours a year. If there is one issue I see, it is not in technology; it is in general interest to fly. The GA flying community is shrinking, local/small airports ideal for roadable aircraft are closing, and the number of new licensed pilots per year is not growing to sustain interest/additional infrastructure.

    I feel unfortunately that the chances are more likely that the aircraft will be built, but nobody will come.

  8. RVDW @ LI says:

    Ford tried this in the 1950s. At that time, the issue was air traffic control. I think ATC is still probably the limiting issue. It’s sad, too, because we need this. Industries are dying because housing prices have gone so high. Flying cars would fix that, because you could live in the country, and commute to the city to work.

    • R.A. @ LI says:

      RVDW said: ” Industries are dying because housing prices have gone so high. Flying cars would fix that, because you could live in the country, and commute to the city to work.”

      Or we could build a high speed rail line, and house millions of people along the rail line. More ecologically sound, and no problems trying to figure out where to land the flying cars in the city.

  9. T.H. @ LI says:

    I hope that flying cars do not show up on the road. Showing up -over- the road would be great, but -on- the road would be rather disasterous.

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