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Flying Car Update — Stalled or Ready to Take Flight?

George Jetson’s flying car; Luke Skywalker’s land speeder—are these land/air hybrids mere science fiction, or getting closer to taking off? Read on for a status report on two companies leading the vanguard of automobile aviation: Netherlands-based PAL-V and Massachusetts-based Terrafugia.

While others have been innovating in the flying-car arena, PAL-V and Terrafugia are the two leading the pack, according to Mark Levine, president and co-founder of the International Flying Car Association (IFCA).

The IFCA has existed informally for more than two years, but formally registered to become a nonprofit in 2012 due to increasing press and activity surrounding news about flying cars.

The PAL-V One

The PAL-V One is a three-wheeled, two-seater hybrid car and gyroplane that you can literally drive from your garage to the local airfield and take off. According to the manufacturer, it handles similar to a motorcycle due to its patented “tilting system.”

The Pal-V One runs on gasoline, and contains a flight certified aircraft engine, which can reach speeds of up to 112 mph on land and in the air. It doesn’t need a lot of room or speed, giving pilots more options where they can take off and land.

While it may look like a helicopter, it’s actually a gyrocopter, achieving lift via an auto-rotated rotor, and moves forward due to a push propeller at the rear. It is quieter than helicopters due to the slower rotation of the main rotor, and can be steered and landed safely even if the engine fails, because the rotor keeps auto rotating.

When airborne, the PAL-V One will fly below 4,000 feet — the airspace for uncontrolled Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic — so the pilot can avoid interference from commercial air traffic. When not using controlled airspace, you can take off without filing a flight plan.

A Pal V-One Update

The latest news from the people at PAL-V is from April 2012, when they released a video on YouTube showing what the company says is the successful maiden flight of the PAL-V One.

In a press release, PAL-V’s co-founder and CEO Robert Dingemanse said, “It’s the sort of milestone we have been looking forward to for years … we proved to the world it can be done within the existing set of rules.”

The company has not yet determined a price point for the PAL-V One, but Dingemanse said it would probably start around $300,000, with pre-orders beginning in 2013. PAL-V envisions small deliveries to begin in 2014, with first orders likely going to Europe, followed by the U.S.

Terrafugia’s Transition®

Around the same time last year, Terrafugia announced that its prototype, the Transition also completed its first flight, and was presented at the 2012 New York International Auto Show.

The Transition Street-Legal Airplane is a two-seater "driving plane" with foldable wings capable of driving on roads and highways, parking in a single car garage, and flying with unleaded automotive fuel. It is classified as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). 

The Transition is made of high-strength composite material and features GPS, air bags and a vehicle parachute system. Like the PAL-V One, you can fill the Transition with 91 octane gas, drive it on the road to the nearest airport, unfold its wings, do a preflight check, and take off.

The Latest on Transition

Terrafugia, which in Latin means "escape the earth," is an aerospace company located in Woburn, MA and founded by pilots and engineers from MIT.

On October 27, 2012, the company gave 300 employees, customers, investors, FAA and other government personnel a demonstration of the Transition at Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover, MA.

According to the company, Chief Test Pilot Phil Meteer put the vehicle through its paces, demonstrating the Transition driving, converting and flying, and then converting and driving again.

Terrafugia continues to flight and drive test the Transition to evaluate the durability of its airframe in real-world environments. Although the team is very pleased with the Transition’s flying and driving characteristics, recent flight tests have resulted in some aerodynamic improvements to the Transition.

Once the engineering team is satisfied that the field issues have been identified and, if necessary, modified, final compliance testing for certification will take place. The company stated that they continue to make significant progress toward production, but do not have a specific date for certification and initial production at this time.

Terrafugia did state that the Transition order backlog surpassed the 100 customer mark, and now represents approximately $30 million of product.

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