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?