A Chitty Chitty Bang Bang For Everyone! New Flying Car Takes to the Sky

By Eliza Strickland | March 19, 2009 4:41 pm

flying carLooking like a cross between a Volkswagon Beetle and a small Cessna airplane, the closest thing yet to a flying car took to the skies earlier this month. The startup company Terrafugia just announced that its “roadable aircraft” performed a successful maiden flight. The vehicle is officially considered a light sport aircraft, but on the ground its wings fold up in 30 seconds allowing for a seamless transition from sky to land. Hence the vehicle’s name: Transition.

The maiden flight was short — just 37 seconds — and right over the runway, but as Anna Mracek Dietrich, a Terrafugia co-founder and its chief operating officer, pointed out, flying wasn’t the key goal. “The first flight is great, but first landing is what matters,” she [said]. That apparently went well too, according to Phil Mateer, a retired Air Force test pilot who took the wheel for Transition’s debut flight…. “The flight was remarkably unremarkable,” Mateer said [Discovery News].

The Transition runs on regular unleaded gas, has a steering wheel — and pilot’s telescopic stick, with rudder [pedals] on either side of the gas and brakes [CBS News]. Terrafugia says it can drive at highway speeds on the ground, and cruises at about 115 miles per hour in the air. But despite its familiar car-like features, Terrafugia isn’t really marketing it as a Jetsons-style commuting vehicle that will allow drivers to skip over traffic jams–that’s not feasible because light aircraft can’t easily be flown through poor weather, bad visibility or [controlled] airspace (as found above cities, for instance) [The Register]. Instead, Terrafugia says the Transition is designed to give pilots more flexibility. A pilot could switch to driving if she hit bad weather, the company says, and could simply drive her plane home and park it in the garage after a flight, reducing storage and transportation costs.

The Transition still has to be declared road-legal by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, and must also be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. But Terrafugia says that after six months of intensive testing, they don’t anticipate any major roadblocks (at least, none that the Transition can’t fly over). The vehicle that took flight this month was just a proof of concept, but the company hopes to deliver the first vehicle to a paying customer in 2011. Terrafugia says about 40 people have plunked down a $10,000 refundable deposit toward the $194,000 purchase price [CBS News].  

Related Content:
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DISCOVER: Dude, Where’s My Jetpack? asks why we don’t all have flying cars and ray guns yet
DISCOVER: Chasing the Jetsons wonders if we’ll ever have what they have
DISCOVER: 6 Blue-Sky Ideas for Revolutionizing the Automobile (photo gallery)
Discoblog: Back to the Future: The First Green Flying Car Is Ready for Takeoff

Image: Terrafugia

MORE ABOUT: aviation, cars
  • AnthonyIac

    Look! Up in the sky! Its a bird! Its a plane!…yyyeeah…its a plane.

  • http://centuryofprogress.wordpress.com/ BobN

    Oh no! Discover is turning into Popular Mechanics!!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Come on, you’ve got to let me do a flying car or jetpack post every once in a while!

  • Ki

    As both a private pilot and military aviator with 2,320 hours, I find your comment, “light aircraft can’t easily be flown through poor weather, bad visibility or restricted airspace (as found above cities)” to be incorrect.

    First, your use of the term “restricted airspace” is incorrect. That term is exclusively reserved for use around predominantly military operations. According to the FAA: “Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles. Penetration of restricted areas without authorization from the using or controlling agency may be extremely hazardous to the aircraft and its occupants.”

    I believe the term you may have been searching for was “controlled airspace,” of which three classes (in some areas, four) are co-located with airports, usually found in or near most cities. In the United States, there are six classes of controlled airspace. Any private pilot may fly any light aircraft through any restricted airspace under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), including Classes A, B, C, D, G, and E. Only class A, 18,000 ft to FL 600, requires both pilot and plane to be certified/rated for flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

    While there is a minimum altitude requirement (1,500 ft above populated areas), flying above cities is not prohibited.

    There are no “light aircraft” prohibitions, per se’. Light aircraft are authorized to fly the same airspaces used by commuters,corporate aviation, commercial aviation, and the airlines.

    As for “poor weather” and “bad visibility,” IFR-certified light aircraft (and instrument-rated pilots) are as capable as the airlines, with the only exception being that light aircraft usually have no de-icing capability.

    Other than that (and the fact we’re a little slower…), we can hang with the big boys. :)

  • http://msn roger

    Eliza, I hope you meant “pedals,” and not “peddles,” (“…with rudder peddles on either side of the gas and brakes”).

    “…–that’s not feasible because light aircraft can’t easily be flown through poor weather, bad visibility or restricted airspace (as found above cities, for instance) [The Register]. Two sentences later we read,
    ” Instead, Terrafugia says the Transition is designed to give pilots more flexibility. A pilot could switch to driving if she hit bad weather…”
    The weather’s too poor to drive, but not too poor to fly? I’m trying to picture how the pilot in this scenario pulls to the side of the road to extend the wings and then merges with vehicles on a freeway…won’t those wings intrude on adjacent lanes?

    This thing is about as practical – and needed – as attaching jet engines to skateboards.

  • http://DragonFlames.com Dragon

    All good points…but…”peddles”?

    *Please* fix this one. My eyes hurt just looking at it.

  • Skip

    “Instead, Terrafugia says the Transition is designed to give pilots more flexibility. A pilot could switch to driving if she hit bad weather…”

    I think Roger is reading this wrong. If she’s flying and hits bad weather, she switches to driving. Makes perfect sense to me.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Hey, all — apologies for missing those two errors in the texts I quoted. CBS News should have written pedals instead of peddles, of course, so I’ve made the correction in brackets to indicate a change to the original text.

    And Ki, you’re clearly more expert than the writers at The Register who incorrectly used the term restricted airspace and implied that light aircraft face limits on where they can fly. I fixed the more glaring error in brackets.

    Roger, you did indeed misread the paragraph about bad weather, as Skip says. Give it another look.

  • brad

    The first thing to come to my mind was,…”the death toll due to vehicular accidents, is going to go off the charts”. There were three fatal road accidents in the Maryland/Washington Metro Area, on 4/21/2010, due to the first real April showers.

    That’s just driving in a straight line, and now we are going to add driving up and down to it, and we haven’t even gotten the hang of reading and writing about it yet!

    “May the GODS have mercy”!!!


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