Reality is catching up to science fiction little by little; a flying car should be zig-zagging across the American sky sooner than we think. Far from having a design evoking the next millennium, the Terrafugia Transition prototype has almost a vintage look to it.
The firm, owned by Volvo, announced this month that the Transition will be expected to hit the market in 2019. Details on the exact date of launch and its price are still forthcoming but some of its features have been revealed. The aircraft is equipped with a hybrid engine, powerful enough to run its propellers or wheels, depending on the circumstances. It is equipped with wings that allow it to fly, which are retractable to ensure it is a size compatible with road driving.
The cabin can only accommodate two people and weighs just under 600 kg. But its weight and engine still allow it to reach speeds of 100 mph during flight at a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. To comply with all safety regulations, the Transition is equipped with both airbags and parachutes. It received the authorisation to fly from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US administration that deals with air traffic.
An announcement linked to an evolution in legislation
One of the major difficulties associated with marketing a flying car is not necessarily technical but rather administrative limitations. Many other projects under development, including those of BWM and Uber, are pushing for their prototypes to also travel by air, using flight corridors. This would require the approval of authorities and would bring about a significant change in existing legislation.
In the Transition’s case however, Terrafugia has obtained a ‘light-sport aircraft’ status for its craft. The difference is in relation to its weight, and the term refers to a specific category of flying craft. To operate this type of vehicle, you do not have to be a professional pilot. A pilot’s license is necessary, but it is relatively easy to obtain, requiring 20 hours of flight training.
A driving plane rather than a flying car
This administrative exception granted to the Transition prototype could still facilitate the task of other firms wishing to market their own flying car. According to a Washington Post article, the difficulty in getting an FAA deal comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion: it is easier to produce a road-friendly aircraft rather than a flight-friendly car, which explains why Terrafugia decided to go this route.
So for who will this new amenity be? According to Digital Trends, Terrafugia has conceived the Transition as more of an on-road aircraft. It was designed to take advantage of the network of small airports scattered throughout the United States. The idea is that pilots fly to these airports and then drive to their destination, or land and take the highway when weather conditions are too poor to fly.
Terrafugia’s announcement comes shortly after manufacturer Aston Martin’s presentation of a concept for a flying car, which is still in its infancy and should not materialise for several years. Its price is also something to consider: more than £7 million. Now all that remains is to see is if the Transition will be any more affordable. As long as the price hasn’t been announced it is hard to know if these planes of the road will be successful. But the dream of the flying car is getting closer to becoming a reality.