Flying Car Prototype Turning Science Fiction Into Reality

Thursday, 01 May 2014 08:30 AM

By Nick Sanchez

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Flying cars figure into nearly every futurescape, from "Blade Runner" to "Back to the Future," and a new company promises us our Delorean is just around the corner.

In 2009, Terrafugia (Latin for "escape from Earth") created a flying prototype car called the Transition, a $280,000 street-legal vehicle that ran on unleaded gas and flew successfully in and out of a New York airport, according to NBC News. Now the team comprised of MIT grads says they're evolving the proof of concept to the next stage with a new car, the TF-X.

Unlike the Transition, the new TF-X doesn't need airports or even runways for takeoff and landing. Instead, it comes equipped with twin swiveling propellers that allow for vertical takeoff and landing. Once it reaches roughly 100 feet, the propellers swivel forward to thrust the car headlong into the wind as the jet engine kicks in to complete the takeoff.

Terrafugia estimates that the TF-X could reach a top cruising speed of 200 mph with a 500-mile range. That means no trips from L.A. to NYC just yet, but L.A. to San Francisco would be no problem.

Perhaps the most ambitious part of the project is the company's assertion that they could make the plane-car so easy to pilot that it would require only five hours of training — a mere fraction of the hours required for the most basic pilot licenses. They plan to achieve this by having an enhanced autopilot system that allows a computer to help drive — sort of an airborne version of Google's self-driving terrestrial-only prototypes.

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The powertrain for the TF-X includes plug-in hybrid capabilities, producing 1,500 horsepower from the two propellers. As with ground-bound hybrids, an on-board gas tank would help keep the batteries charged.

The company expects the development of the TF-X to be finished in 8 to 12 years.

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