Where's My Flying Car?
CREDIT: Matt From London, via Flickr
The fact that flying cars remain science fiction instead of science fact isn’t due to lack of trying.
Since the days of the Wright brothers, engineers have been trying to marry flight with ground-ready transportation. Henry Ford toyed with a single-seat airplane that some thought might be marketed and sold like a Model T. It never went into production. In the heady days after World War II, flying machines that could also go on the road looked more like cars with wings. The best example is the Taylor Aerocar, which also never saw the light of an assembly line.
A company called Terrafugia is trying to change that. The company makes a small airplane (it does not market it as a flying car) called the Transition that is marketed for sport pilots. The product is essentially a small aircraft with wings that fold up, so you can drive home from the airport and park it in your garage — assuming your garage is big enough.
"You cannot take off from your driveway," Richard Gersh of Terrafugia said. "This isn't 'The Jetsons.'"
The Transition has a range of about 400 miles (644 kilometers) and gets about 30 mpg (12.75 km/liter) on the road. It can cruise at up to 115 mph (185 km/h) in the air. Drivers would need a valid pilot’s license and the plane would have to take off from an airport. It is expected to go into production next year and will retail for about $200,000.
"This is a high-end vehicle," Gersh said. "No two ways about it."
But what about those of us that are waiting to take off right from home, George Jetson-style? No need to hold on to your hat, you’ll be waiting a while, said Gersh. Again, it’s not for lack of trying. Moller International, for example, has been trying to develop a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (VTOL) for decades, and claims that the M400 Skycar will be available in coming years.
Terrafugia was also awarded a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract in 2010 to look at creating flying Humvees that would also be VTOLs.
"The technological challenges with vertical takeoff and driving on the road are pretty substantial," Gersh said, "but the question is at can you do it economically?"
He noted that the technological issues, including the power-to-weight ratio of the electronics packages and power systems, could be overcome. The U.S. Department of Defense might have a price tag in mind that would never be acceptable in a car dealership show room.
Whether it’s a small aircraft or VTOL, any product will have to meet the various standards of both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation. In the foreseeable future the rubber will stay on the road for the average driver.
This story is part of our series "Where's My Future?" that looks at areas of technology that have failed to catch up with the predictions of science fiction. The rest of the series can be found here.