Nobody enjoys traffic. And if you live in a city like Los Angeles, traffic quickly starts to play a dominant role in your life. Such a reality has left me envious of George Jetson and his aerocar. Or Kobe Bryant and his daily commute to practice in a helicopter. I would love to fly over the commoners in an uncluttered and traffic free sky. I would whistle on my way to work. I would rain on parades; seriously, I would drop water balloons on the unfortunate souls crawling along beneath me. And thanks to the Terrafugia Transition, that dream is now closer to being a reality than ever before.
The Transition, built by a small start-up called Terrafugia, is the closest thing to a flying car that has ever been built. Created by a group of flying-enthusiast MIT engineers, development for the Transition only started earlier in 2006. The goal was to create a vehicle that would meet the requirements for the FAA’s “light sport” aircraft and be able to function as a practical road-car. A U.S. pilot’s license for light sport aircraft is relatively simple and inexpensive to obtain, as it requires only 20 hours of logged flight time and the other restrictions are similarly lowered.
Unlike other attempts at mating air and ground travel, the Transition is actually fairly competent both in the air and on the ground. When its wings are folded, it can cruise at highway speeds and will get a reported 30 mpg. Even more significant is the fact that the Transition is designed to fit in an average sized parking garage. Upon arriving at an airfield or other open space, the Transition need only unfold its wings and accelerate to 114 mph (which takes roughly 1/3 of a mile) and the little vehicle is airborne. With a cruising speed of 115 mph, a range of 460 miles, and maximum load capacity of 450 pounds, the Transition is stacking up to be a very versatile vehicle.
Despite efforts to meet the 1,320-pound weight limit for light sport aircraft, the challenge has proven to be too daunting for the start-up company. Between fitting the wings and engine required for a plane and the crumple zones, airbags, and structural cage required for a passenger car, the Transition weighs in at 1,430-pounds. Fortunately, the FAA has made a special exemption for the Transition, granting the vehicle an extra 110 pounds of leeway and thereby allowing it to be counted as a light sport aircraft.
Although the company is still in the prototype stages of development, Terrafugia claims that there is a lot of interest in the Transition. In fact, it has already taken more than 70 deposits for the plane-car, which will cost an estimated $194,000. Fortunately, early adopters don’t have to worry too much about Terrafugia failing to deliver their Transition and absconding with their down payment, as the money is held in an escrow account. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2011, so you’ve got some time before you have to start getting your water balloons ready for those parades.