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16 June 2009 10:59 AM

Business / Economics

Notes on the Flying Car

As a kid, I desperately wanted one of the hover boards featured in Back to the Future II. I wasn't alone. The devices seemed so compelling that Snopes had to debunk rumors of their existence that circulated in elementary schools including mine. Even in the films, however, hover boards were for kids and teenagers. The dream for the 16-and-up set was the flying DeLorean, perhaps the most iconic depiction of humanity's long running, ongoing quest for the flying car.

A staple of futuristic films and cartoons, it feels as though we've been promised the flying car as surely as a machine to teleport us from place to place -- and that we're destined to be disappointed for quite awhile longer. Though we lack teleportation technology, however, we possess the tools to fly and to drive. So why no flying car? What's the hold up? I've long thought the fundamental flaw in our approach is a focus on making cars fly, rather than making a plane that drives better.

And it seems my hunch is being vindicated.

Cutting Edge reports:

The start-up Terrafugia first popped up on our radar screens in early 2006 with a one-fifth scale model, $30,000 in prize money, and an urge to build a car that could fly. Or is that an airplane you can take on the highway?

Some signs point strongly to the latter. Terrafugia describes its Transition vehicle as a "roadable aircraft" and is pitching it in part as giving private pilots an easy travel alternative when bad weather makes flying a bad idea, or simply to avoid having to take a separate car to the airport. Also, in the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, the vehicle falls into the light sport aircraft category.

Here's video of "the other hybrid" lifting off:

I must say that this vehicle doesn't seem very promising to me. The flying car we've been promised doesn't take off on a runway like an airplane--it lifts vertically off the ground. It occurs to me that we have flying machines capable of that very feat. So take note, flying car industry--good job focusing on planes that drive better, but an even better idea is to put wheels and a transmission on something that is closer to a helicopter than a single engine plane.


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