Forget driverless - Will flying cars become the new future of motoring?

6th August 2015

Ever been stuck sitting in traffic, wishing that your dashboard had a button that could make your car hover above the traffic and soar off at 200mph? If so, it might not be that long until your daydream becomes a reality.

With fully-autonomous self-driving cars seemingly on the horizon, you might not have realised how close we might actually be to flying cars, but one American company has been working on flying car-projects for nearly a decade now and has recently unveiled its latest design – meet the Terrafugia TF-XTM:

Although the TF-X is still a concept, Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia, said that building such a machine would be possible with current off-the-shelf technology.

If produced, it would become the first flying car to take off vertically, which would eliminate the need for airport runways that all previous designs have incorporated.

The Woburn, Massachusetts based business has already developed a road legal vehicle capable of flight, called the Transition® - see below video:

The two-seater Transition model runs using regular unleaded petrol, as the same engine that powers the rear wheels on the ground also powers the propeller used in flight.

It has a top cruising speed of 100mph and is close to gaining Federal Aviation Administration approval, which means we could see it on sale within the next two years.

Terrafugia have anticipated a base purchase price for the Transition of £279,000 and prospective customers are already able to reserve a place in production in return for a $10,000 refundable deposit. The company said that it has received dozens of deposits already from customers who want one.

However, it would seem from the recent unveiling of the recent TF-X concept that Terrefugia has its sights set on greater things in years to come and the Transition’s futuristic younger brother is set to be a completely different story entirely.

The company claims that the TF-X will use battery-powered rotor blades to lift off, before using a petrol-powered propeller-like fan for forward thrust, reaching speeds of up to 200mph.

Perhaps what’s more exciting is that Terrafugia propose that the TF-X will fly by itself, requiring the operator to simply punch in his/her destination into the navigation system and to sit back while they sit back and relax.

The company claims that the fully autonomous flight feature will mean that operators won’t require a pilot’s licence to fly the TF-X, predicting that it should take an average driver no more than five hours to learn how to safely operate the vehicle.

Terrafugia also claims that the flying car will be able to carry four people “in car-like comfort”, have a flight range of at least 500 miles, as well as fitting in your garage.

If you’re already starting to worry about flying cars falling from the sky, you’ll be pleased to hear that the company has an extensive range of safety features proposed for the TF-X, which Terrafugia claim will make it “statistically safer than driving a modern automobile”.

These include the following:

  • TF-X™ vehicles will be capable of automatically avoiding other air traffic, bad weather, and restricted and tower-controlled airspace.
  • TF-X™ will have a backup full-vehicle parachute system which can be activated by the operator in an emergency if the operator believes the TF-X™ to be incapable of auto-landing.
  • If a TF-X™ operator declares an emergency (which will automatically notify authorities of the situation), the TF-X™ can be landed in non-approved landing zones.
  • If the operator becomes unresponsive, TF-X™ would automatically implement an emergency auto-land at the nearest airport.

The company is currently uncertain on the likely price of the TF-X, but estimates that it “could be on-par with very high-end luxury cars of today.”

A step too far?

The concept of flying cars is by no means a new one and designers and manufacturers over recent decades have attempted to develop a marketable aeroplane-car hybrid, but have struggled with design limitations.

Whether or not Terrafugia can succeed where others have failed still remains to be seen, but Bob van der Linden, curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. remains sceptical.

“A flying car is such a compromise that it doesn't do a good job as a car or as an airplane,” said van der Linden.

“It's cheaper to own a good airplane and a good car,” he goes on to say.

The museum is home to three previous attempts, including an Airphibian, an Aerobile and a Stout Skycar.


What are your thoughts on Terrafugia’s concept?

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