Terrafugia flying car to debut at New York Auto Show

transition flying car drivingFlying cars populate sci-fi stories, but they have always been a pipe dream here in reality. That may change soon, as one company inches closer to selling flying cars to customers. Terrafugia plans to debut such a car, the Transition, at the New York Auto Show this April.

“We selected the New York International Auto Show to continue the roll-out of the Transition because of the value this show brings in terms of exposure to future owners, investors, and partners,” said Terrafugia COO Anna Mracek Dietrich. A high-profile auto show debut will allow the company to get maximum exposure for its futuristic machine.

To develop the Transition, Terrafugia has had to face legal challenges as well as technical ones. Last July, the Transition was granted two exceptions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The first allowed it to use a lighter, aircraft-style, windshield, made out of polycarbonate instead of laminated glass. The second approved the Transition’s nonstandard tires for road use.

Terrafugia also needed to make sure their car could function as an airplane. It made its first flight on March 5, 2009 and received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval in 2010. Like the NHTSA, the FAA had to grant an exemption, in this case allowing the Transition to carry an extra 110 pounds of weight, which accounts for the airbags and other road safety equipment.

Terrafugia is good at clearing bureaucratic hurdles, but will the Transition actually work? In car mode, it gets 35 mpg, has a top speed of 65 mph, and hand hold a set of golf clubs in its trunk. That’s all pretty typical, as long as you stay out of the left lane. As a plane, the Transition can fly 450 miles at 115 mph, according to the company, and can transform from car to plane in less than 30 seconds.

To transition their Transition, pilots/drivers just need to fold up the wings; the tail is towed behind the fuselage on its own wheels. The result doesn’t look much like a car, which is not surprising given that Terrafugia views it as an airplane first. The company sees it as a way to give pilots options, such as landing and driving in bad weather. The Transition will require a Sport Pilot license to fly, in addition to a driver’s license.

The fact that Terrafugia is putting its creation on display at a major auto show is probably a good sign. It indicates that enough development work was done to make the Transition a viable car and airplane, or at least viable enough to fool potential customers and investors. Speaking of customers, Terrafugia says a Transition will cost about $279,000; the company is currently taking orders with a $10,000 deposit. If you want to fly and drive, head to the New York Auto Show, which opens April 6.