Image: The TF-X concept from Terrafugia
The dawn of the flying car is nigh. A company called Terrafugia has been working to bring the first airborne sedan, the Transition, to the masses since 2006. Yesterday, it announced that it will finally deliver its first unit in 2015. Unfortunately, the clumsy Transition is really nothing like the flying cars humans have fantasized about zipping around in ever since the Jetsons. But Terrafugia also announced that it's working on an alternate model, the TF-X, that is: a vehicle that will take off vertically with rotor propellers, fly with the wings of a private jet, and drive like a street-legal sedan. In other words, a flying car built to sci-fi spec—just as we always imagined it.
See, the Transition, the one coming to market in two years, is more private jet than flying car. It looks sort of a like a toy airplane that was dropped in a trash compactor:
The Transition must be driven to an airfield and outfitted for flight—in other words, the flying car presents few discernible advantages over just having a small plane, other than the novelty factor, which would mostly just result in people giving you puzzled looks as you cruised by in a pod version of the Bluth stair car. Also, it costs $300,000.
So all you flying car aficionados out there might want to save your cash until Terrafugia introduces the TF-X. Because this one might actually be a game-changer.
The TF-X is everything the Transition is not: it's a leap forward. It actually offers a distinct departure from current transportation paradigms. The TF-X can be taken to flight from a helicopter pad—or a parking lot. According to Terrafugia, the vehicle will carry four people "in car-like comfort," boast a nonstop flight range of 500 miles, fit in a single car garage, take off vertically from a clearing that's just 100 feet in diameter, and will be road and highway ready. It actually gets us one step closer to Blade Runner.
The company also insists that any driver will be able to learn to pilot the airborne vehicle within a mere five hours—though they'll still have to get their pilot's license.
Sure, it's still a little goofy. It's also the FAA's nightmare come true: flying cars taking off and soaring across suburbia at will would usher in a new era of trasportation mayhem. If Terrafugia's plans ever attract enough investment to enable them to sell a high volume of these things, there's obviously going to have to be some serious work done to hash out what traffic rules might look like for omni-directional airborne transit.
Still, it's easy to imagine lots of affluent folks getting excited about this idea: soaring over increasingly congested commutes, skipping right from the local suburban Walmart parking lot to the roof of the parking structure at the office downtown. I joked about it earlier, but the novelty factor is not to be underestimated, either—millions of well-off baby boomers, not to mention millions of older and younger generations, grew up dreaming about sci-fi and flying cars. Some of them will no doubt be willing to dip into their savings to live out that fantasy in real life. Transfugia is betting on it—and they are flying cars, after all.