The Last Minute Gift 2010 version of the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog offers a flying car. Price: $350,000. The vehicle being offered is an actual roadable car that converts to a flyable airplane. The machine, called the Transition, was designed by a group of MIT graduates at a company named Terrafugia. A proof-of-concept prototype has flown and the design is being developed for sale.
Here’s how it works: In the airplane mode the vehicle looks much like a normal low-wing airplane with a 100-hp engine driving a pusher propeller. A wing-fold mechanism like those used in Navy carrier aircraft is used to fold the wings up along-side the body or fuselage so the vehicle will fit on a road or highway. Gears are shifted and power is transferred to the wheels so the airplane becomes a car.
In airplane mode, the pilot has the usual aerial instruments like airspeed and altitude and, of course, two-way radio. In car mode, the driver would have automotive instruments needed for the highway like a speedometer and turn signals. It would be licensed with the FAA with an N-number and with the state of MD with a vehicle license plate.
In principle, a commuter could leave home in the morning and drive to Frederick Airport. At the airport the wings would be unfolded and the car converted to an airplane. The commuter would then take off and fly to, say, Montgomery Airpark, convert back to car mode, and drive to work in Rockville. The flying car is only certified for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operation so it’s strictly a fair-weather vehicle but flying at night wouldn’t be a problem. For driving on icy roads, it would be like any other automobile.
Aircraft designers have been tinkering with theflying car concept for a long time. In some cases, the results were simply kluges with little practical value. In others, however, the designs had real possibilities. They generally weren’t practical, though, because the conversion process was complicated and required separating the automobile part from the airplane part. The former would be driven off and the latter left tied down at the airport. Potential buyers particularly weren’t impressed with the idea of doing all this in the dark in the winter-time.
(Kluge n – rhymes with huge or luge – an engineering term referring to something thrown together or improvised to perform a function.)
So, if you’re stumped for an idea for a gift for that person who has everything, as they say, consider the flying car. You could have a winner.