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Heads up, George Jetson: Terrafugia starts taking orders for its flying car
The Terrafugia Transition flying car was unveiled almost a decade ago but, like many similar projects, it has seemed at times like this vehicle would never get off the ground. Now Terrafugia claims to finally be ready to put the Transition into production, saying that sales will start in 2019. The company has started taking pre-orders for the vehicle without releasing final pricing information.
Terrafugia promises improvements to the design in return for the wait. Those improvements include a new gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain which delivers a 400-mile range and a top speed of 100 mph. The Transition can reach heights of 9,000 feet, allowing the two passengers to literally soar above traffic. Terrafugia also promises a “boost” option for the throttle that provides a quick burst of extra power, an improved interior, a parachute system, upgraded seat belts and airbags, and three rearview cameras in road-going mode.
The Transformers-like transition from car to plane takes less than a minute. But rather than a car with wings, Terrafugia thinks of the Transition as a street-legal airplane. It’s designed to take advantage of the network of small airports scattered across the United States. The idea is for pilots (and you do need a pilot’s license to fly one) to fly into these small airports — assuming the runway is at least 1,400 feet long — and drive to their final destinations, or land and take to the highway when the weather is too rough for flying.
So, unlike other developers of flying cars, Terrafugia expects the Transition to be used more like a conventional airplane. That makes things a bit less complicated. Companies like Uber are envisioning swarms of airborne taxis flying around cities, which will require some form of urban air traffic control system, and will challenge current aviation regulations. But even pulling off its more straightforward vision of a flying car has proven tough for Terrafugia.
The first Transition prototype was built and flown in 2009, and a second version followed in 2012. When that second prototype was unveiled, Terrafugia said it was relatively close to production readiness, which was apparently an overstatement. Terrafugia was bought in 2017 by Chinese automaker Geely, which is also the parent company of Volvo and Lotus, giving it access to more cash and engineering resources. It looks like the cash infusion is finally paying off.
While the past few decades have seen numerous failed attempts at flying cars, the past few years have seen numerous new players looking to give the concept a try. From startups like Terrafugia and Google co-founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk to established firms like Uber, Airbus, and Rolls-Royce (the aviation company, not the automaker), everyone seems to be jumping on the flying-car bandwagon. But it remains to be seen whether any of these efforts will be successful in the long term.