Meet the Terrafugia Transition: that is, the first flying car to ever get government approval. After decades of dreaming (and dozens of failed attempts), we might actually be getting close to having that dream of the future, a flying car.
But why haven’t we had a flying car before? Well, we have, sort of. The idea of the Terrafugia is not new; in fact, the first “roadable aircraft” to successfully fly, the Arrowbile, took wing in in 1937. Ford thought it would be possible to design, mass produce, and sell a flying car in the 1950s, which is why so many of those old-fashioned “visions of the future” have Mom and Dad in a flying hatchback. (We assume The Jetsons had car insurance on their flying vehicle.) The problem isn’t really the technology, per se … it’s how you manufacture it, how legal it is, and how you sell it to your customers.
Concern #1: Safety
Unlike driving, which is fairly simple to learn and to perform, piloting an aircraft is far riskier; it requires more training, more time behind the wheel, and more paperwork, not to mention a special license. And as any experienced pilot can tell you, the minute you get in the air, no matter how experienced and well-trained you are, the risks go way up. Even a low-altitude airplane crash is more dangerous than your typical car accident; there’s more momentum, more weight, and more height. There are real concerns about more and more pilots getting into the air: it’s making the sky a more crowded and more dangerous place.
Then there are federal car safety standards, first implemented in the 1970s: a flying car would have to fit both car and aircraft safety specifications. Transition, in fact, is the first company to fit those criteria since the 1970s.
Concern #2: Traffic
Just like on the ground, there are places you’re not allowed to go and certain “rules of the road” you have to follow. Everyone would need to be trained on how to “fly” properly. We’d all be taking driver’s ed again.
Also, how would we ensure that cars in the air are going in the right direction and relating properly to the other flying vehicles? Today, flight plans are filed with your local airport. But how would that be handled with millions of people in the air at any given time?
Concern #3: Selling These Vehicles
It’s not that there’s no market for a flying car: a roadable aircraft is actually something that would be welcomed by, for example, rescue personnel in rural areas, who could fly a seriously injured patient directly to the hospital instead of having to take them to a clinic or hospital and arrange an airlift. It would also be welcomed in more rugged areas with settlements far apart from each other.
Still, the brass ring is selling these vehicles to the general public, and that’s difficult to do: how many people want to deal with both the FAA and the DMV at the same time? As a result, the economic incentives just haven’t been there … yet.
But, now, Terrafugia might have conquered at least some of that. If nothing else, we might have a safer future with cars that can fly us to doctors and connect us more closely than ever before. And that’s always worth dreaming about.