January 11, 2009

Flying Car Ready For Take-Off

The world's first flying automobile is scheduled to take to the skies next month. The flying car, which can transform itself from a two-seater road vehicle to a plane in just 15 seconds, runs on normal unleaded fuel and can fit easily into a garage, according to its Massachusetts-based manufacturer.

Should it survive its initial test flight, the Terrafugia Transition is set to land in showrooms in about a year and a half, with a retail price of $200,000.

"This is the first really integrated design where the wings fold up automatically and all the parts are in one vehicle," Carl Dietrich, who leads Terrafugia, told the Times Online.

NASA engineers developed the Transition, which is powered by the same 100bhp engine on the ground and in the air.  It can fly up to 500 miles on a single tank of gas at a cruising speed of 115mph, Terrafugia said. However, the vehicle has only been tested on the road at speeds up to 90 mph.

Dietrich said the company has already received 40 orders.

"For an airplane that's very reasonable, but for a car that's very much at the high end," he acknowledged.

However, challenges remain.  For instance, obtaining insurance for the vehicle could be complicated, and regulatory obstacles in most states could make operating the Transition less straightforward.  Indeed, Alaska is currently the only place in the entire U.S. in which it is legal to take off from a road.

But Dietrich is nevertheless optimistic.

"In the long term we have the potential to make air travel practical for individuals at a price that would meet or beat driving, with huge time savings," he said.


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