Is That Really A Flying Car?

What Has Four Wheels, Two Doors, And Flies?  Not What You Might Hope.

The Terrafugia Transition
Right, a 'flying car'...

Ahead of the New York International Auto Show, there has been much discussion about a new entry into the flying car realm.  A company called Terrafugia will be displaying the ‘Transition’ at the show this weekend.  When I first heard about this carplane a few months ago, I of course had to check it out.  As an airplane, it’s pretty neat.  But is it a flying car?

What’s Old is New Again

Long a mainstay of science fiction, the first real attempt at a flying car I heard about was in the late 80’s.  The Moller Skycar.  Paul S. Moller has been a pioneer in this field and way ahead of his time.  He’s probably put more thought and effort into it than anyone in aviation.  He’s been working on it for over 40 years, and has reportedly wasted spent over $200M.  He cares so much, he has even been sued over it because, I imagine, he wants to get it right.  Unfortunately for him, the FAA didn’t come out with the LSA and SP ratings until 2004.  But now things have changed and a few new manufacturers believe the flying car can finally be a reality due to the FAA rule changes.  Terrafugia seems to be the first viable contender out of the gate, and they’re showing it off at auto shows.  They did it in just a few years since the creation of the LSA rule, but in my opinion there’s a problem… flying cars, like fine wine, take time, and Moller might be the only real wine maker willing to wait.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. –Inigo Montoya

You Keep Using this Word, 'Flying Car...'

The Terrafugia Transition is a great concept and I hope it succeeds.  However, as close to reality as this technology finally seems, why isn’t demand so immense for this ‘breakthrough’ technology that people treat it like the inevitability it supposedly is, like hybrid cars?  To explain it, I must paraphrase a recurring line from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride: “This word, [flying car], I’m not sure it means what you think it means.”

Don’t Call Me A ‘Hater’

Now, I don’t want to give off the idea that I hate this Terrafugia thing.  I actually like it.  But do I love it as a flying car?  No.  Rather, I think it’s a pretty cool street worthy, drivable (driving) airplane.  I mean, when you think of flying car, do you really think of this?

Are those literal gull wing doors?
Gullwings, or just wings?

Here’s what they’re saying in the picture above:

Car Driver: “Hey Dave, is that really a flying car?”
Transition Driver: “Wow! How could you tell?!”

And that’s my point in this case.  Looking past the fact that you need runways everywhere to fly where you want, it’s kind of an ugly car, no?

Meet George & Marty

Here’s a flying car:

Flying car from The Jetsons

Here’s a flying car:

Back to the Future Delorean

And since the above two cars probably depend on some sort of gravity-defying technology, if we can’t wait for that, perhaps this will have to do:

The next best thing to gravity?

So, I guess what really makes a car into a flying car is the ability to perform vertical take off and landing (VTOL).  And from what I understand, that’s incredibly hard to do — harder than just slapping a pair of wings on a car.  Moller knows this.  But don’t let that be a discouragement.  Keep it up manufacturers.  Don’t give up the quest for the flying car.  Just try to set your investors expectations a little more realistically, and then hang on.  And perhaps in another, say…40 years, a real flying car will be in our midst.