05/04/2012 16:02 | By Sean Carson, contributor, MSN Cars

Terrafugia Transition flying car shown in New York



Terrafugia Transition (© Motoring Research)
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This is the Terrafugia Transition, a flying car - we suppose you could call it a crossover - being shown at this year's 2012 New York International Motor Show.

The human race's curiosity with flying cars isn't all that new. Man has been trying to combine four-wheeled motoring with aviation since the 1920s - even the biggest name in the business at the time, Henry Ford, had a go.

Unfortunately the Blue oval's "Sky Flivver" project was abandoned after a record attempt ended in the death of a pilot.

First flight: the flying car you could almost afford
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On Bing: see pictures of the Terrafugia Transition
VIDEO: the flying car at New York

But over the years, as engineering advances have been made and material qualities and manufacturing processes improved, we've always flirted with the concept of a hybrid driving / flying machine.

And now one company from the States thinks it may have found the definitive answer.

What is the Terrafugia Transition?

According to Terrafugia, the Transition "combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings, with the ability to drive on any surface road in a modern airplane platform, while offering the ability for personal flight."

That means it's a flying car or a plane that drives, however you want to phrase it.

How powerful is the Terrafugia Transition?

A 100hp Rotax engine powers the transition, with drive sent to the rear wheels via a conventional CVT gearbox, transferring to the propeller at the touch of a cockpit button.

The electro-mechanical wing actuation is also controlled from inside the cockpit, taking just 30 seconds for the Transition to, er..., transition between car and plane.

Terrafugia Transition

How fast is the Terrafugia Transition and how far can it fly?

With only drag to hold it back, rather than friction from the road surface-tyre interaction, the Transition has a maximum velocity of 115mph, but Terrafugia recommend a more comfortable cruising speed of 105mph.

At this pace it'll quite happily cruise for 490 miles before you'll be running on fumes - something you don't want to happen.

But, if the worst should occur, thankfully the 100hp engine also powers a backup full vehicle parachute system.

On the road the Transition will return a more than respectable 42mpg combined, helped by its low curb weight of 440kg. After all, weight is the enemy in aviation.

So, it's basically a flying car that can be used on the road and in the air for up to around four and a half hours, depending on weather conditions. Job done. Game changed. Go home.

But is that quite the case?

Does it work in the real world?

There are two different answers to the above question - A) yes, it does work in the real world in that it can drive on the public road, but is also licenced to fly. Given the cross-concept nature of its design, it's important to stress it's a working machine.

In fact, the latest incarnation of the Transition - it's a continuing development process for Terrafugia - completed an eight-minute test flight last month, flying at 1,400ft.

But coming to answer B) no, it doesn't work in the real world. It's simply too big.

Even in "car mode", the Transition still stands at 2.3 metres wide with the wings stowed - that's 200mm wider than the new Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, a pretty girthy vehicle itself at 2.1 metres.

Drop the wings into flight mode using the cockpit switch, and the Transition's width grows to 8 metres.

The folding wings are a great idea for a plane - the "unique functionality addresses head-on the issues faced by today's Private and Sport Pilots", meaning it takes up less space on an airfield - but as a car, they don't quite work.

Combined with its six-metre length - 900mm longer than the new Merc GL - it's going to be a stinker to park.

Terrafugia Transition

How much is the Terrafugia Transition?

You're going to have to have deep pockets or a huge desire to want one, too. Base price is around $279,000 - that's about £176,000 - with a $10,000 deposit for the airframe (around £6,300) needed up front.

Things only go upwards from there - and we don't mean powered flight. There's an options list including autopilot, night flight pack and dual flight controls, all of which are likely to be pretty expensive.

That said, it is a more cost effective aviation option than a helicopter or conventional light aircraft.

Do I need a special licence to drive/fly the Terrafugia Transition?

The Transition can be driven on an orthodox drivers licence, as it's purely a car - an odd one, but still a car.

However, for wheels to depart from terra firma, officially you need a pilot's licence. According to Terrafugia though, you can become a Sport Pilot in as little as 20 hours flying time on the Transition-specific training course.

You know you want one though...

Despite all the potential drawbacks of a flying car, we still want one. To be able to drive to an airfield (or maybe just even a field), spread your wings and ascend into the ether must be one of the coolest feelings around.

It's expensive, yes, and it has its shortcomings, but this sort of technology always has to start somewhere - just look at mobile phones and even more recently, how the crop of EVs has moved on since the first lot of milk floats we'd call electric cars were released.

Finally, to answer a question that might be running through your mind, why Terrafugia? Well, it's Latin for "escape the land." Pretty apt we think.

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