No longer sci-fi: flying car comes closer to commercial production

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In what would to today’s older generation seem akin to Batman meeting science fiction, US-based company Terrafugia Inc has begun feasibility studies of a four-seat, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plug-in hybrid-electric flying car.

Provisionally named the TF-X, the ‘Transition’ street-legal craft would take off and land like an airplane, but drive on the road like a normal car. the TF-X is a four-seat, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plug-in hybrid-electric flying car.

Terrafugia, a small company, founded in 2006 by MIT-trained aeronautical engineers and MBAs, who also happen to be passionate private pilots, had built the prototype of the ‘flying car’ in 2006. But in 2008, they produced the ‘Transition’ a two-seat aircraft designed to take off and land at local airports and drive on any road by transforming from plane to car in less than 30 seconds

Observers of Transition technology – which refers to cars that can fly; and in which Terrafugia is a pioneer – point out that this flying car is not a long-term dream, unlike many other personal flying vehicles. In fact the company has already had test flights.

Transition itself is essentially a simple idea based on existing technology. It refers to a plane which can fold up its wings and drive safely on roads.

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Vehicles like the TF-X are not meant to take off outside your house and land on your office roof or anything – rather, it would take off and land at normal airstrips just like any other light aircraft. But then, it would simply drive out of the airport gate to wherever the pilot wants to go.

In the event of bad weather, which generally grounds ordinary private pilots who don’t hold expensive professional instrument ratings, the Transition owner could simply drive the whole way on the ground like in an ordinary car.

But it’s not exactly a machine for the daily commute, nor is it a flying car for everyone: an expensive and troublesome-to-obtain pilot’s licence is required to fly it, albeit a somewhat less onerous sport-pilot ticket as opposed to a normal private pilot qualification.

The company in a press release said that the TF-X incorporates state-of-the-art intelligent systems, fly by wire controls, and currently available technology; and it will further increase the level of safety, simplicity, and convenience of personal aviation.

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”This is the right time for us to begin thinking about the future of the company beyond Transition development,” says Terrafugia chief executive and chief technology officer Carl Dietrich. ”We are passionate about continuing to lead the creation of a flying car industry and are dedicating resources to lay the foundations for our vision of personal transportation.”

Terrafugia’s design team is excited to be looking ahead to TF-X development activities as the Transition program shifts from research and development to certification, production, and customer support activities.

By directly addressing congestion and other transportation challenges currently being faced internationally, widespread adoption of vehicles like the TF-X could result in significant economic benefits and personal time savings, the company release says.

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Preliminary conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the TF-X concept have demonstrated their willingness to consider innovative technologies and regulatory solutions that are in the public interest and enhance the level of safety of personal aviation, it adds.

But getting such a car into production is not simple, and the flying car is actually running behind schedule. Terrafugia had hoped to be delivering Transitions in 2009, but has yet to ship its first one.

A prototype did fly that year, but after tests were completed the Transition design was altered significantly and another prototype took to the air last year. Production had been expected to start shortly thereafter, but in fact it has not – and the company is giving no firm indication of when it might.

Terrafugia, based in Woburn, MA, is a growing aerospace company founded by pilot-engineers from MIT and supported by a world-class network of advisors and investors, the company says.  The company name is Latin for ”escape the earth”.

Terrafugia’s mission is to build practical flying cars.

 

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