The Future Is Here: Escape the Earth

The future is officially with us. Well it is almost upon us.

Another flying car attempts liftoff—alert the staff at Popular Mechanics. (Credit: extremetech.com)

When pigs fly! That’s the conclusion you’d draw from 75 years of magazine covers promising that the flying car was just around the corner.

But hope springs eternal.

Welcome to the future our forefathers were dreaming about: the world’s first flying car is finally here! Well, you still need a runway, or at least, sort of.

Flying Car Cleared for Highway Use

The first flying car has come closer to lift-off after being granted road safety exemptions that will allow it to be used both on the road and in the air—and that brings delivery to the first customer closer to reality.

That’s right—the only flying car you can buy today has just been approved for highway driving by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The organization granted a special exemption for the Terrafugia Transition, under the provision of “roadable aircraft.”

Terrafugia (ter-ra-FOO-gee-ah), Inc., of Woburn, Massachusetts was founded in 2006 by award-winning MIT-trained aeronautical engineers and MBAs who also happen to be private pilots. Terrafugia is derived from the Latin for “Escape the Earth”.

Terrafugia flying car gets road-safety exemptions. (Credit: Terrafugia)

The company’s mission is to provide innovative solutions to the challenges facing personal aviation. The result is the Transition® Roadable Aircraft.

Terrafugia’s latest step forward was receipt of an exemption from NHTSA June 30 allowing airplane-style lighter polycarbonate window material instead of heavier safety glass used in cars. Terrafugia says polycarbonate would withstand the impact of birds better than auto glass.

In the exemption text, NHTSA states: “We further conclude that the granting of an exemption from these requirements would be in the public interest and consistent with the objectives of traffic safety.”

Fly and Drive

The Transition has an exemption allowing for tires that are “appropriate” for multi-purpose (that is, fly-and-drive) vehicles.

Earlier it received a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) waiver allowing the Transition to weigh 110 pounds more than the normal legal limit for light sport aircraft category. It also meets all applicable car crash standards, the company states.

A prototype Transition was first test-flown and test-driven in 2009, which puts it ahead of most other flying cars that never flew, except as the illustrations on the covers of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. The company says it’s different because of the availability of lightweight composites that didn’t exist a generation ago.

Terrafugia Transition brings Chitty Chitty Bang Bang closer to reality. (Credit: Terrafugia)

The Transition is classified as a Light Sport Aircraft and requires a Sport Pilot license to fly. That means you need a pilot’s license, but a kind that’s easier to acquire than a private pilot’s license used with planes such as the Cessna 172 and 182. It would fly out of small airports, anything with 1,700 feet of runway (versus 5,000 to 10,000-foot runways for commercial airports).

The wings fold twice per side, once at the wing root where it meets the fuselage and once in the middle; that takes 30 seconds, about the same as putting up the convertible top on a car.

The same engine drives the car through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the airplane propeller through a carbon fiber shaft.

Terrafugia says deliveries will begin in 2012 and it’s tentatively priced at around $250,000, about the same amount of money as an entry level diesel pusher. Terrafugia is taking reservations with a $10,000 refundable deposit, and says it already has roughly 100 orders.

According to its website, Terrafugia’s philosophy is “to design a vehicle for pilots that brings additional ground capability to an airplane instead of attempting to make a car fly… The Transition isn’t designed to replace anyone’s car, but it could replace your airplane.”

That viewpoint means you’d fly the Transition close to where you intend to go, land at one of the nation’s 5,000 private airports, then you could drive the last few miles to an RV park, vacation home, or resort.

In really crappy weather, you could set the Transition down early and drive the final 100 miles to your destination.

Now, that’s my idea of a hybrid.

To be continued…

Worth Pondering…
If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.

If you can dream it, you can become it.

—William Arthur Ward

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