In many futuristic Sci-Fi movies, human kind is travelling in flying cars. In Minority Report and The Fifth Element the average person can fly directly from home to work or to the supermarket. Thanks to a new invention, flying cars don’t only have to exist on celuloid anymore but might soon be seen on our roads – and sky.
The US company Terrafugia created a prototype car that is licensed to fly as well as drive. It is the first fully integrated flying car in the world that has met the standards of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
“It’s the first street legal airplane in the world,” explained Cliff Allen, vice-president of sales at Terrafugia. With these words Allen introduced the flying car at the New York International Auto Show. The versatile vehicle, known as the Transition, has two seats, four wheels and retractable wings. It doesn’t look as futuristic as the cars in the movies but it still has an exotic, innovative touch.
The Transition can fold its wings and drive on any surface road. Once at the airport, it simply extends its wings and is ready for take-off. “You just do your pre-flight checks, unfold your wings and away you go,” said Dr. Schwegart, an engineer at Terrafugia.
The prototype completed its successful first flight on March 23rd. A retired US Air Force test pilot, who volunteered, took the maiden flight for eight minutes at 14,000 feet.
The new car has also successfully conducted initial drive and conversion testing. It demonstrated its capability to “provide unmatched freedom, flexibility and fun in personal aviation,” according to Terrafugia.
However, there are still important details that need to be worked out, including the stall speed of the plane. There are significant design challenges marrying a roadworthy car with a skyworthy vehicle, said Schwegart.
“We were curious to see how it would take off. Unlike a normal plane, it cannot rock back on its rear wheels at the moment of take-off because it is designed to be stable as a car on the road,” explained Schwegart. The engineers also found that Transition needs more speed than anticipated in order to generate the necessary lift for take-off.
The vehicle will be easy to maintain as it can just pull up to a regular petrol station to fill it up. It does 35 miles per 4 litres and 28 miles in the air. “The discrepancy is because of drag,” according to Schwegart. On a full tank the Transition has a range of 644 miles. In theory, it could make non-domestic flights but for the time being the vehicle’s licence limits it to flying in the United States.
The Transition is expected to be available next year, with a price tag of around $280,000. Terrafugia has already registered 100 pre-orders.