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Fairly realistic flying car offered for 2009 delivery

It's a car. It can fly. That's it.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Terrafugia reckons there are two main tech hurdles to jump before the Transition is ready to fly and drive. The first of these is the one-touch folding wings, which the company believes it has cracked. A demonstration wing has been built and tested successfully.

The remaining trick is not the engine - the Terrafugia mob reckon an existing Rotax job can do everything they need - but the transmission, which must be able to switch easily between driving the propeller and the wheels. It also has to be light, in order to keep the Transition within the FAA limit of 1320 pounds for a light-sport aircraft.

Anna Mracek Dietrich, Terrafugia engineer and COO, spoke to Tech Review.

"Going into this, we knew our two biggest design challenges to make it practical would be the wings and the power train," she said.

"By validating the durability of the wing's construction and engineering, we've checked one major design challenge off of the list, and now our focus is on the second."

One might also suspect that there will also be major challenges in getting the Transition certified as road-legal. This is traditionally a big stumbling block for flying-car inventors, who are often FAA-savvy but less well acquainted with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"We've made inroads with both [regulators], especially the FAA," says Dietrich.

The company expects to begin flight testing next year, and deliveries from "late 2009". The business plan calls for production of between 50 and 200 Transitions annually, selling for $148,000 a pop. Terrafugia says that all its anticipated production through Q2 of 2010 has been reserved already (the refundable reservation deposit is $7,400, held in escrow) though it won't say exactly how many that is. However, the investor sheet (pdf) quotes customer number 29, so presumably at least that many orders have been placed.

For your $148k you get two seats, cruising speed of 115mph in the air (or normal motorway performance on the ground), 25 miles per gallon flying on super unleaded, and 460 miles flight range.

One of the weaker stats on the spec sheet (pdf) is the useful load - just 550lb. Up to 120lb of that will be taken up by fuel, so the Transition won't get airborne freshly topped up with two heavyish people. It certainly won't carry much baggage, unless flown solo or with very little fuel.

Budding secret agents or master criminals should also note that you can't just pop the wings out during a high-speed chase and take off: the button will only work with the vehicle stationary. There's no air-con, either.

Despite these limitations, the Transition looks very wantable indeed to your correspondent*. Regrettably, the Vulture Central scriven-remuneration package doesn't permit the purchase of £74-grand conveyances.

Perhaps they'll let us have one for review ahead of the UK launch. The MIT Tech Review piece is here

*A somewhat rusty, strictly VFR private pilot.

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