Flying Cars Taxiing for Takeoff

One company that will sell you an air-friendly craft is U.S.-based Terrafugia (appropriately, Latin for “escape the Earth”). Founded in 2006 to build and sell the hybrid vehicles, the firm has developed the Transition, a two-seat, fixed wing vehicle that both drives and flies on commonly available automobile gasoline.

In a way, though, it isn’t quite the full automobile-and-plane solution beloved of transportation fantasists. The Transition is essentially an aircraft that can be used as a car to get to and from the nearest airport.
“The vehicle is, first and foremost, a plane,” says Richard Gersh, Terrafugia’s vice president of business development. “It takes off and lands at an airport.”

But, he adds, the automobile aspects of the Transition add a great deal of value. It can be stored in a home garage and driven to/from said airport for a door-to-door journey. Not only does this eliminate the hassle of arranging an airport transfer, it saves considerably on storage – there is no need to pay the typically pricey hangar fees to keep it at an airport.

It’s also extremely useful after landing at the target airport. Because once there, Gersh says, “You don’t need ground transport. The convenience of being able to just fold up the wings and drive to your final destination is the real value proposition.”

Terrafugia is currently taking reservations for the Transition, and aims to start commercial deliveries in 2017. The required deposit is $10,000, and the final selling price is estimated at a cool $279,000. The craft is powered by a 100-horsepower Rotax 912iS engine, and has a total range of around 410 miles.

On the other side of the globe is AeroMobil, a Slovakia-based firm that unabashedly describes its flagship product, the AeroMobil 3.0 as a flying car – a true hybrid of automobile and airplane.

The craft is intended to be both a solution for increasingly crowded European roads, and a more viable alternative than pure commercial air travel. “The equivalent of 1 percent of the European Union’s GDP is lost every year in the EU alone because of traffic congestion,” says AeroMobil CEO and co-founder Juraj Vaculik.

“Also, medium-distance travel using commercial airlines is more and more painful,” he adds. “For trips up to 400 miles it’s not the most efficient solution.”

To address this need, AeroMobil has designed a sleek, very modern craft with wings that sweep back unobtrusively behind the cockpit when used on the ground. Like the Terrafugia Transition, it boasts a Rotax 912 engine. Its top speed in the air is over 124 miles per hour, and its range is around 435 miles.

The 3.0 is a prototype, however Vaculik says that it’s “very close to the real production model.” The flying car builder says the company is currently finalizing the requirements to obtain road certification. No price has yet been set but the firm anticipates it will be in the hundreds of thousands of euros. AeroMobil aims to start taking orders for its craft next year.

Both Terrafugia’s Transition and AeroMobil’s 3.0 are clearly effective solutions with a lot of potential. So why isn’t everybody reserving one in the hopes they can soon, for example, hop over the English Channel to Paris for a lunch date?

Outside of the costs that put such products out of the range of the average consumer, there’s the problem of simple utility. The dream of flying cars is a fantasy of long journeys, while the reality of most vehicle travel is a twenty-minute drive to the supermarket. According to Dan Sturges, a transportation engineer and futurist, even the current automobile standard is oversized for the average person’s need.

The passenger automobile is “designed to take us on long trips, even 3,000 miles across the country,” he says. “In many parts of the US over 50 percent of all trips are less than 5 miles. Why are all our vehicles designed for the most extreme trip?”

Sturges decries what he calls the current “monoculture” of the car. “A forest with only one species of planet life is not a healthy forest,” he says. “And having a nation of vehicles that is locked in on one size and format is not healthy either.”

Despite its limited utility for a select few, the flying car broadens that scope and provides an alternative to the standard. And even if its appeal is narrow, it’s certain to influence the way we think about and approach long-travel. It’s too early to tell what impact a flying car might have, but one thing is abundantly clear – it’s no longer purely in the realms of fantasy and imagination.

Terrafugia provided the photo.

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