Can Terrafugia Finally Deliver Flying Cars to the World?
Terrafugia shows off its impressive Photoshop skills with the TF-X. From terrafugia.com
Jetpacks. Robot maids. Time machines. Flying cars. Things that science fiction promised us but have yet to be invented or perfected. Jet packs using huge amounts of compressed water are cool, but it’s not the same as a fuel-burning hell engine strapped to your back. A Roomba is not Rosie from The Jetsons, and Einstein says we can’t have time machines, because light is the Universal Speed Limit, and all that (although Stephen Hawking says we can go forward in time, so I’ll settle for half). We should have flying cars by now, though, shouldn’t we? We have cars and we have airplanes, helicopters, gyrocopters, and Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft, so how come we haven’t been able to marry ground and air travel? Okay, so maybe there have been slight packaging, safety, driveability, flyability, financing, cost, legal, procedural, and technical hurdles, but those are merely stepping stones to progress! And those hurdles may finally be overcome, according to Massachusetts-based automobile manufacturer Terrafugia, who revealed its second flying car, the TF-X, yesterday. Wait, what the hell happened to the first one?
The Terrafugia Transition
We’ll start with a little history. Terrafugia’s first flying car, the Transition, has been in development for seven years now, and conducted its first flight test in 2009. The vehicle was originally slated to take to the roads and skies by December of last year to the tune of $280,000, but constantly modifying the prototypes has necessitated a delay until 2015 at the earliest. At its core, the Transition is a carbon fiber-bodied lightweight that seats two and runs on premium gasoline. The empty weight of the vehicle is just a hair under 1,000lbs, and the maximum takeoff weight is 1,430lbs; pilot, passenger, fuel, and luggage can weigh no more than 460lbs total. That means that all of the wealthy eccentrics out there who have hefty pocketbooks as well as hefty waistlines have two years to prepare for Beach Season to fit in the small cockpit.
The specifications for the Transition are hard to believe. Because the craft maxes out at just north of 100mph in the air and 70mph on the road, fuel economy is downright impressive. While flying, the vehicle sips fuel at a rate of 5 gallons/hour, or 21mpg; while driving, the Transition gets 35mpg. The wings fold vertically for road use, as to not constantly lop the roofs off the cars in the next lane. That can be so troublesome.
Seemingly satisfied with the progress and development of the Transition, Terrafugia has already begun working on its next flying vehicle, the TF-X. Its wings are folded with the rotors collapsed in a pod located underneath where the doors are. Those wings are hinged on the top and pop out like the doors on a DeLorean DMC-12, while the rotors are then tilted upward for takeoff. When flying, the rotors rotate forward as in a prop aircraft, and when cruising the rotors are deactivated, leaving the TF-X to be powered solely by its 300hp engine. The entire system looks massively complex, and will assuredly undergo drastic design changes by the time Terrafugia presumably releases the vehicle in 2025. All the while, the company will be developing a flying Humvee for DARPA, and no, you did not read that incorrectly.
While Terrafugia is nowhere near the first manufacturer to seriously attempt to build a flying car, it is quickly becoming the most likely to actually mass produce one. The Transition has been in development for several years and has already cleared major milestones to meet NHTSA requirements for road use. It will need to meet FMVSS standards for which it has been given temporary exceptions, such as the requirement of stability control and advanced airbags. Although the vehicles will be expensive, and could even exceed the current quote of $280,000, man will finally be able to take to the streets and the skies with the same vehicle. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t become vaporware like it forebears.
About Cameron RogersCameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.
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