It’s been humanity’s dream since we first took flight: the flying car. In fact, we’ve had them as early as 1910, when Waldo Waterman invented the Arrowbile, an offshoot of his tailless flying craft. Ford had a design that could be mass-marketed as early as the 1950s, although it was grounded by the primitive forms of air traffic control we had at the time. But none have come as close as the Terrafugia Transition.
There are problems — both engineering and legal — when it comes to flying cars, or "roadable aircraft." The first — and most basic — is that these are obviously not cheap vehicles; the Transition will cost $279,000 per vehicle. The engineering has to meet not only FAA standards for aircraft, but also government standards for vehicles, ranging from emissions to safety. Needless to say, that can be hard to cram into a vehicle that also has to be sky worthy.
Engineering-wise, there are more than just regulations you have to worry about. Unfortunately, the flying car has killed one or two inventors in its century-long history, most notably when a prototype of the AVE Mizar, a mixture of a Cessna aircraft and a Ford Pinto, disintegrated in mid-air in 1973, killing its inventor, Henry Smolinski. Indeed, one concern raised was that if everybody got a flying car, it would cause fatalities as they careened into buildings, shopping malls, and areas full of pedestrians. This would have driven up the cost of everything from jet fuel to auto insurance.
So how does the Transition get around all that? Superior engineering and careful thought. But, as much as we hate to disappoint you, pulling your car out of the garage and taking flight isn’t quite as easy as having a spare quarter of a million dollars lying around.
First of all, the Transition as a car is…not great. Its top speed is a whopping, uh, 65 miles per hour. Furthermore, getting the Transition into a flying state may be simple, but in order to actually take off, you’ll need pilot’s training and licensing, depending on the state. You’ll also need to obey regulations, which means you’ll need to file a flight plan with the FAA before you can soar into the wild blue yonder.
In short, the Transition is more of a small plane designed for hobbyist pilots, and for specific uses, than it is a flying car, per se. Not that it won’t find an audience: there’s strong interest among, for example, rural ambulance units who see the possibility of quickly getting a patient to a major hospital.
But, hey, it’s a start, and the best-engineered flying car that’s ever so much as come to market. Maybe the day isn’t so far away when we’ll be able to roll our planes out of the garage and take them for a nice Sunday spin.