The Transition in road trim.
The concept has been around for decades without ever getting off the ground. But now aviation experts say a flying car could be in regular use within five years after a model was approved by US aviation authorities.
The $250 000 (R1.7 million) Terrafugia Transition is a two-seater aircraft with a top speed of 185km/h and a range of 800km on a tank of fuel. It requires just 20 hours' training to fly.
The wings take 15 seconds to fold up and the power is re-routed from the propeller to the rear wheels.
It can then be driven at up to 105km/h and comfortably fits in a standard garage.
Terrafugia founder Carl Dietrich said: "It's like a little Transformer," referring to the children's toys that were turned into a blockbuster movie franchise. Although aimed primarily at buyers in the US, buyers all over the world have already declared an interest in the carbon-fibre vehicle.
Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, who set a world record for a cross-Channel journey in an amphibious car, said: "What a great idea. I'd absolutely like to hear more and I'm going to look into it myself."
The Transition in flight.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently announced exemptions to allow flying cars on - or above - American roads. The Civil Aviation Authority said such backing meant it would be relatively easy to be granted clearance by the European Safety Agency, based in Cologne.
The project, which began in 2006, appeared doomed in mid-2010 when R130 million of design changes were demanded - but Dietrich's company was saved when the US military awarded it a $65 million (R440-million) contract to develop a flying Humvee.
Two Transition prototypes are nearly finished and few changes are expected to be needed before the final model is ready to roll off the production line in 2012.
One of the 100 customers who have paid a $10 000 (R68 500) deposit is Sherry Grobstein, a software engineer from Massachusetts who flies a Cessna.
"I think it's the coolest idea in the universe," she said. "I can fly somewhere and if the weather isn't good enough to fly back, I'll just drive home. Or when I get to an airstrip, I can explore nearby restaurants without renting a car." - Daily Mail
July 18 2011 at 09:36am
By Andrew Levy