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Get ready for flying cars!

FAA approves test flights

Created date

February 10th, 2016
The TF-X flying car will fit in a single-car garag
The TF-X flying car will fit in a single-car garag

The flying car has long been a staple of science fiction and fantasy stories. From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to The Jetsons to Back to the Future, flying cars represent the most fantastical vision of the future.  

In 2016, flying cars are not fantastical; they’re a reality. A few companies have flying cars in development, and optimistic projections have flying cars available for purchase by early next year. 

In late 2015, the FAA authorized Terrafugia, a Woburn, Mass.-based startup to begin testing their flying car, the TF-X. The news is both small, in that the testing will be with a model of the TF-X weighing less than 50 pounds, and big, since regulations and FAA red tape have been the biggest impediment to bringing flying cars to the marketplace. 

The TF-X

The TF-X is Terrafugia’s vision for the future of personal transportation. It is a four-seat, hybrid electric, semiautonomous, vertical takeoff and landing, flying car. When in driving mode, it is fully road legal and small enough to fit into a typical one-car garage. When in flying mode, the TF-X can go 200 mph with a range of about 500 miles. It has a 300 horsepower engine. Terrafugia hopes to deliver the TF-X in 2021.

More immediately, Terrafugia plans to release the Transition, a light sport aircraft that drives like a normal car, by 2017. It will carry two people plus luggage and will operate on a single tank of premium, unleaded gas.

Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich calls the Transition a “roadable” aircraft. To drive it, you will need a regular driver’s license and, because the vehicle handles somewhat differently than a normal car, some special training provided by Terrafugia. Flying the Transition will require a sport pilot’s license. 

The price tag of the Transition is rumored to be upwards of $200,000 and the TF-X is expected to sell for between $300,000 and $400,000. At those prices, if you can afford to purchase a flying car, you won’t need to worry about getting stuck in high-altitude traffic jams.  

AeroMobil

Slovakia-based company AeroMobil also announced plans to release a flying car in 2017. “I believe that AeroMobil will inspire new ways of thinking about personal travel. We are set to reinvent the flying car without constraints and deliver excitement through unique technical solution and design,” says Juraj Vaculik, cofounder and CEO of the company.

The AeroMobil’s size is comparable to that of a limousine or a large luxury sedan. It has low maintenance costs and can be parked in a regular-sized parking space. It uses standard gasoline and can be fuelled at regular gas stations.

The history of flying cars

The concept of flying cars is almost as old as automobiles and older than viable airplanes. Henry Ford began assembling his first automobile prototype in 1892. The Wright brothers flew the first airplane on December 17, 1903—months after Dr. Traian Vuia first applied for a patent for his flying car.  

While Vuia’s contraption did little more than hop off the ground, he was the first of many to combine the features of a car with those of an airplane. In 1912, there was the car carried by hot air balloon. In 1919, the Curtis Autoplane lifted off the ground but never achieved full flight. 

In 1937, three Waldo Waterman Aerobiles took off from Santa Monica, Calif. One landed en route while the other two landed at their intended destination 2,060 miles away—the National Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite that stellar achievement, there was little consumer interest in the Aerobiles, so only five were ever produced. 

In 1940, Ford Motors ventured into aeronautics with the Flivver, a single seat plane. The prototype of the plane crashed, killing the pilot and the company’s desire to move forward with flying. Despite that early failure, Henry Ford said, “Mark my words, a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

AEROCAR 1

While many dreamed of producing a viable flying car in the last century, only Moulton B. “Molt” Taylor came close to succeeding. Taylor, who served as a lieutenant commander in the navy during World War II, once said, “Airplanes never take you where you want to go. They take you to airports.” 

Taylor persuaded fifty people to invest $1,000 in creating a prototype of a workable flying car. A short time later, he delivered the AEROCAR 1. It took some time and more money to get the vehicle certified, but by 1956, six vehicles were produced. They cost $25,000 each, but Taylor sought to bring the cost down. 

Ford Motors committed to producing 25,000 AEROCARS a year, but clearing the cars with the Department of Transportation proved to be an insurmountable hurdle. Only six AEROCARS were produced. 

Getting flying cars through all the regulatory government red tape has been even more of a challenge in modern times. Only time will tell if 2017 is the year flying cars finally get off the ground.

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