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The Terrafugia Transition "roadable aircraft" - the nearest thing to a flying car yet built - has made its first test flight.

Terrafugia says that the flight took place on March 5, and will hold a media briefing at 1430 UK time. Meanwhile pictures of the flight are available on the company's website.

The Terrafugia Transition flies

Now. Where's my robot/brainchip-monkey butler?

Company test pilot Phil Meteer, a retired air force colonel, is quoted by AVWeb as saying:

"The first flight was remarkably unremarkable. I've flown several thousand hours in everything from Piper Cubs to F-16s, and the Transition flew like a really nice airplane."

In aircraft terms, the Transition is a light two-seater aircraft intended to fit within the new US "light sport" category. A light-sport pilot's licence is easier and cheaper to acquire than a normal private pilot's ticket, and medical red tape is reduced. Cruise airspeed of 115 knots is expected, range of 450 miles and "highway speed" on the ground.

The Transition has most of the weaknesses of light aircraft, in that it can't easily be flown through poor weather, bad visibility or restricted airspace (as found above cities, for instance). Users needing to get through such obstacles will need to land at a suitable strip nearby, just as a normal private pilot in a Piper Tomahawk might.

The difference is what happens next. The Transition driver has no concern with finding an aircraft parking spot, getting hold of taxi or hire car etc. Instead, he or she presses a button. The wings fold up in less than thirty seconds, and the Transition drives out of the airport gate and makes the rest of the journey by road.

If the weather gets worse and a takeoff for the return flight is impossible, no bother - simply drive home on the ground, all the way if necessary.

Terrafugia still has the process of light-sport certification before it, and road-legal clearance from the National Highways and Transportation Safety Administration. However the Transition has already undergone extensive ground tests, and company execs seem confident.

"This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility," Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich told AVWeb. "Travel now becomes a hassle-free integrated land-air experience. It's what aviation enthusiasts have been striving for since 1918." ®

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