The dream of a flying car has been around almost since the invention of the automobile. Henry Ford predicted the dream would become a reality in 1940 when he proclaimed, “Mark my word, a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” Less than a decade later, Moulton Taylor’s Aerocar proved him right, but it remained a curiosity and only three models were ever built.
U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman Dick Knapinski says, “Since the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford we’ve had the dream of marrying the plane and the car, but engineering, regulatory and cultural hurdles have always got in the way.” But that may be about to change.
In recent years advancements in materials science, computer-assisted design and “sense and avoid” avionics have brought the dream of a commercially-viable flying automobile closer than ever to becoming a reality. So much so, federal safety regulators have indicated they may be close to giving flying automobiles their blessing.
FAA spokesman Les Dorr says, “If a ‘flying car’ is intended to operate on U.S. highways then the vehicle has to conform to both the applicable U.S. Department of Transportation standards for a car and the applicable aviation standards for an aircraft.”
Last July Boston-based Terrafugia unveiled its experimental Transition hinged-wing automobile at an Experimental Aircraft Association event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. According to Terrafugia’s vice-president of business development Richard Gersh, the Transition’s primary function is as an aircraft, but it has also been licensed for road testing. Gersh says, “We have an experimental airworthiness certificate from the FAA which means we still have to stay away from populated areas, but everything is going to plan to achieve full certification.”
Gersh is pragmatic about the Transition’s potential. “We don’t envisage this replacing your family car, and you’ll always have to take off and land at an airport,” says Gersh. “But it does give you the flexibility of driving to the airport and to your destination at the other end.”
With a retail price of about $280,000, the Transition’s price tag is also an obstacle for most would-be owners, but Gersh says the company has received more than 100 orders.
Terrafugia is also working on another experimental four-seat electric hybrid vehicle, the TF-X, which is capable of vertical take-off and landing. The TF-X reportedly has a top ground speed of 200 miles per hour and a 500 mile range.