Well, it’s about time. Since the 1950s, we’ve been promised flying cars were just around the corner. But despite a steady stream of outlandish concepts, a working car-o-plane has always remained frustratingly and tantalisingly out of reach until now.
Built by the Boston-based outfit behind the still-not-yet-in-production Transition, the Terrafugia TF-X is a bold vision of a transportation future unbounded by roads, runways or pleasing aesthetics.
The TF-X which will seat four people is capable of vertical take-off, thus negating the need for a runway. Wings furled, it will squeeze into a standard single garage, thus negating the need for a hangar in which to store your personal plane.
Speed and power
It is powered by a plug-in hybrid arrangement, a pair of electric motors combining with a 300bhp petrol engine. Aerial thrust is provided by a ducted fan at the rear, and a propeller at the end of each retractable wing.
It is not clear how fast the TF-X will go on road, but once airborne, it will soar at speeds of 200mph (about 321kph) for a distance of up to 500 miles. Which means you could hop from London to Geneva in under three hours, and in a single bound.
Production and costs
However, there are, admittedly, a few tiny issues with the TF-X. First, as you may have deduced from the rather renderised images, it doesn’t actually exist yet.
Terrafugia admits bringing the flying car to production is a process ‘expected to last eight to 12 years’, which means, realistically, it will be the middle of next decade before we see one on the driveway of TG Towers. It is as yet unclear exactly how much the TF-X might cost, but Terrafugia has hinted that the final price ‘could be on-par with the very high-end luxury cars of today.
And then there’s the wider issue of safety and legislation, both of which have played a significant role in scuppering previous flying car attempts.
Terrafugia reckons the TF-X should be statistically safer than driving a modern automobile’, and says learning to fly it will take just five hours of training.
That is thanks, at least in part, to a high degree of autonomy: once airborne, the TF-X will effectively fly itself – though the driver can override the controls – and land automatically, without human input.
In the event of failure, the TF-X can deploy its full-vehicle parachute, allowing, hopefully, the flying car to float safely down to the ground.
Though foolproof in theory, convincing both the car-buying public and the lawmakers that filling the sky with personal planes is a safe, sensible thing to do will remain a challenge for a while to come.
Consider the muddle legislators are getting into around self-driving cars right now, then add the vertical dimension into the mix, and it’s clear the world’s lawmakers will need everyone of those eight to twelve years of development to figure out the car-o-plane small print.
Top Gear yields to no one in its desire for a flying car, and the TF-X looks to be one of the most convincing efforts to date.