COMING SOON: The First Street and Air Legal Flying Car
by Manfried StarhembergThis time it's not a Popular Mechanics pipe dream but the real thing: The US Federal Aviation Administration has given type approval to a new aircraft which is also capable of being used as a motorcar on the highways. It has met the crash test requirements of the Federal Transportation Safety board and is now certified for sale in the United States.
It took a group of young, talented M.I.T. graduates led by Dr. Carl Dietrich (33) to bring his original drawings through the "proof-of-concept" stage to flight tests at Plattsburgh airport in 2009, culminating, after excruciating examinations by officials from two different agencies, in a newly minted certification of airworthiness.
The craft will go into limited production this year and will be sold at the end of 2011 at a price estimated at approximately $200,000 to $250,000.
The prospect of combining flying and driving in a single vehicle has tantalized engineers, inventors, and visionaries for decades. In 1940, Henry Ford proclaimed: ''Mark my word, a combination airplane and motor car is coming. You may smile, but it will come."
The Terrafuggia Transition weighs 1,320 pounds, features a 100-horsepower Rotax engine, stands 6 1/2 feet tall, and is 80 inches wide.
Here is how Dietrich and his partners envision the craft to work:
A driver (who would require a newly created F.A.A. Sports pilot's license) gets into the front seat of the Transition, turns the ignition key, and drives to the nearest small airport. The wings stick up from the sides; the rear propeller is not in use. Once at the airport, he pushes a button, lowering the 27-foot wings into flying position. The pilot runs a pre-flight check of the aircraft. Then, the pilot turns the ignition key once more, starts the propeller, taxis to the runway, and takes off. Traveling at about 120 miles per hour at a cruising altitude of between 3,500 and 8,000 feet (though the aircraft would be able to go as high as 12,000 feet), he flies to his destination. After landing at the airport, he pushes a button to transform the plane back into a car and drives to his business meeting. Later, he drives back to the airport, changes it into a plane, flies back, converts the Transition to a car, and drives home.
Dietrich points out, however, that the Transition would not make for a practical family car. ''This is not going to replace your Toyota Camry," he said. ''You could take it to the store, but it doesn't have the trunk space of your SUV."
The range of the craft is 700 kilometers on one full tank.
Move over Jetsons - The Future is now!