If Tesla Motor's all-electric speedsters aren't advanced or exciting enough for you, just wait. Massachusetts-based Terrafugia may at last be on the verge of giving us one of the greatest dreams of science fiction fans: a flying car.
The engineering firm reported that it took an important step forward thanks to a weight exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration. The Terrafugia's Transition Roadable Aircraft will be allowed to weigh a maximum of 1,430 pounds at takeoff. That's the same weight allowed for an aircraft that operates on water.
At first glance, it might make more sense to classify the Transition as a Light Sport Aircraft, which would force it to conform to a lower weight limit – 110 pounds less, in fact. Anna Dietrich, Terrafugia's COO, explained that the Transition needs the extra weight for the additional safety features it needs to operate on the road – features that other light aircraft do not require.
These features include a protective safety cage, airbags and an energy absorbing crumple zone. The vehicle can transition its form from plane to car in “about the same amount of time as putting down your convertible top,” Dietrich notes, and the change is made from inside the cockpit. Once you land, you tell the system to fold up the craft's wings, and you can simply drive away.
The Transition is designed to travel 450 miles at speeds of about 100 miles per hour in the air and 60 to 70 miles per hour on the ground. Rather than think of it as a flying car, though, it might be best to see the Transition as more plane than automobile. Given the vehicle's classification, those who want to fly it will still have to get a Sport Pilot certificate, which requires 20 hours of actual flight training. Dietrich noted that some programs can help you get the certificate in about two weeks.
This kind of treatment for the vehicle may help assuage the concerns of many when thinking about flying cars. Given how many accidents can occur with ordinary cars in two dimensions, adding a third just seems to be asking for trouble. While the Sport Pilot program may not be rigorous when compared to some pilot programs, it requires more of a person than they would need to know just to get a driver's license. From Dietrich's description, it sounds as if the vehicle is intended for taking off and landing at airports, and not the middle of a highway. Likewise, most of the miles it spends on the road will probably take it to and from an airport.
The vehicle's list price is closer to what you'd expect for an aircraft than a car: just a little under $200,000. Even if you have the money now, though, you'll have to wait, as the Transition still needs to be fully certified by the FAA and tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before it goes into production. The vehicle made more than 20 test flights last year, and the company expects to deliver its first Transition in about 18 months.
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