There are a few very legitimate reasons why flying cars are not a good idea. People are already bad enough at driving on the ground, and flying cars inevitably mean airborne crashes and falling sky debris. But there’s one reason why the idea of flying cars will never die: from The Jetsons to The Fifth Element, they are the ultimate symbol of the future.
On Sunday, that symbolic milestone got a little bit closer. The Federal Aviation Administration granted a “light sport aircraft” weight exemption to the Terrafugia Transition, making it one of the first commercially viable flying car concepts.
Terrafugia (pronounced ter-ra-FOO-gee-ah) is a transportation company that “intends to catalyze a revolution in personal mobility.” Or, in less jargon, the front page of their website reads: “We make flying cars.” Got it. Their first car plane, the Transition, has been in development since 2006, and their end concept vehicle, the hybrid-electric TF-X, looks like something from 2060. But if the FAA exception is any indication, the Transition could be here much sooner than that.
The Transition has the controls of both a car and a plane because, well, it’s both a car and a plane. The wings fold up and down like the Tesla Model X Falcon doors, though the Transition vehicle comes out of the factory ready to drive and fly, instead of just float for a brief period of time.
The car plane has been a long time coming. People have been dreaming up ways to take their four-wheeled automobiles to the sky for almost as long as people have had four-wheeled automobiles. There was the Curtiss Autoplane design in 1917, the ridiculous looking ConVairCar Model 118 in 1947, and the 1966 Aero-Car, which wasn’t all too dissimilar to the Transition. The FAA also gave a similar light-aircraft classification to this freakishly-extreme flying dune buggy earlier this month, so flying wheeled vehicles could be on the rise.
The Transition has room for two people and some golf-bag sized cargo space. Once it gets by a few more regulations, pilots will be able to fly it with a “sport” license after just 20 hours of lessons. It won’t come cheap though — Terrafugia hasn’t settled on a final price, but current estimates are in the $300,000 to $400,000 range according to Engadget.
Under FAA regulations, sports aircraft must be lighter than 1,320 pounds, but the Transition needed to be heavier to meet federal automobile safety requirements. It also needs to go faster than the speed limits to take off, because it takes some lift to get a car plane that heavy off the ground. But the company successfully managed to get the FAA to make exceptions to the rules for them, which could set precedent for other flying car companies like the two that Larry Page secretly founded.
Still, bureaucracy moves slower than Windows 1.0, so we probably won’t see the Terrafugia Transition on the market for a few years. Still, the FAA exception is a big step toward a legal flying car future that (very rich) people can participate in. The rest of the land-locked future population will just have to settle for autonomous cars.