Image: Flying car with chase plane
Terrafugia
Terrafugia's Transition flying car and its chase plane during testing in May, 2009.
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updated 6/29/2010 7:21:21 PM ET 2010-06-29T23:21:21

The Terrafugia, a small airplane that can drive on roads and has been billed as the first "flying car," is now one step closer to becoming street- and sky-legal.

The vehicle has cleared a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory hurdle for craft classification by weight. A full-fledged production prototype might be just around the corner, according to multiple reports.

At issue was Mass.-based company Terrafugia wanting its Transition vehicle to be classified as a "Light Sport Aircraft" by the FAA so people eager to fly it would need only 20 hours of flying time.

Yet the two-seater vehicle came in 110 pounds (50 kilograms) overweight in accommodating roadworthy-assuring safety items such as crumple zones. The FAA said that so long as customers are advised about this extra weight, the car-plane hybrid can be sold.

The Terrafugia completed its maiden voyage last March in upstate New York. According to its maker, the Terrafugia can transform from a roadable vehicle that can hit a highway speed of 65 mph to a winged aircraft in 30 seconds.

The plane version can cruise at about 115 mph (185 kph) and cover about 400 miles (644 kilometers) worth of turf before needing a refill of regular unleaded gas.

The price of a Terrafugia is expected to be around $200,000 and deliveries could start next year, assuming the vehicle passes crash tests. The company has envisioned its vehicle as finding a home with amateur pilots who live near air fields, but as any Jetsons' fan knows, flying cars might well be the wave of the future.

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Video: ‘Roadable aircraft’ may soon be available

  1. Transcript of: ‘Roadable aircraft’ may soon be available

    OLBERMANN: the Wright Brothers first flew an airplane -- that worked, anyway -- aviator Glen Curtis unveiled his auto plane at New York `s pan- American Aeronautic Exposition . The car-plane hybrid was billed as a flying limousine, though it could only hop down the road and was never mass produced. Possibly because they forgot the end of it.

    Our number one story, as long as there have been planes and cars, there have been people trying to get rich selling hybrid plars . The latest is the Terrafugia Transition , which now has the all clear from the Federal Aviation Administration . A roadable aircraft ; the transition is more like a plane that drives, rather than a car that flies. On the ground, the wings fold up like an accordion, without the noise, and extend in 30 seconds for liftoff. One tank of regular unleaded gas will fly you 400 miles in the air. you get 30 Miles per gallon on the road. Some of the craft`s safety specs, like parachute, airbags, safety cage cause the craft to surpass acceptable weight limits for the FAA light sport aircraft designation, 110 pounds too much. An exemption granted. All Terrafugia has to do is let customers know their plar is a little overweight. The light sport aircraft designation means owners would need only 20 hours of practice before legally flying this thing. Its plar`s price tag, just 194,000 dollars, but includes the true coat. And even though the it still needs -- it would probably be the way that should be written -- needs crash testing before going to market, the company says it`s already taken 70, count them, preorders. David Kiley has been covering the car industry for more than two decades and is currently a correspondent for AOL Autos . Mr. Kiley , thanks for your time tonight.

    DAVID KILEY, AOL AUTOS CORRESPONDENT: Glad to be here.

    OLBERMANN: The FAA says this thing is OK to fly. Who has to say whether or not it`s OK to drive the damn thing?

    KILEY: Well, that will be the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . But, you know, they also green lighted the Yugo and the Pontiac Aztec . So the standard for achieving street legal is not that high.

    OLBERMANN: It seems to me, also, this -- it misses the point of the flying car . For it to be a flying car , you have to be able to be driving it and then suddenly push a button and you take off and fly, don`t you? Isn`t that the premise of the flying car ?

    KILEY: That would be great. I mean, I was driving on I-95 two weeks ago, and it took me nine hours to get from Washington , D.C. to the Outer Banks , where ironically that`s where Kitty Hawk is. I think that was the inspiration for the Wright Brothers , is being on 95 on a Friday in June. But actually, I mean, that`s the thing. You have to fly this thing from municipal airport to municipal airport , so it`s not like you can be frustrated with the traffic, pull over on the shoulder, get up a head of steam and do a chitty chitty bang bang over all the traffic. That`s what we`d all like. But still, you know, I think these guys are great. They`ve come up with a pretty innovative thing. These are also, by the way, the same guys who developed the spork, the combination spoon and fork, for people -- I`m actually kidding about that.

    OLBERMANN: I got you on that.

    KILEY: But the dual purpose invention is a fascination that captures a lot of people`s imagination.

    OLBERMANN: Twenty hours practice time for flying it, does that sound -- I know you`re a car guy more than a plane guy. But 20 hours, is that enough?

    KILEY: You know what? I don`t think so. I couldn`t learn how to play the clarinet in 20 hours, let alone fly one of these things. And the last time I checked if I played the clarinet badly, I wouldn`t kill anybody. So I`m not -- but, you know, flying one of these, I think -- frankly, I think the standard is a little low for training, but that`s me.

    OLBERMANN: Has anybody thought about the impact of this thing during police chases? I mean --

    KILEY: I think it`s only a matter of time . I`m sure O.J. has, but I think he`s strapped for the 10 Grand deposit. But the -- it will happen. Once these are out and once people are driving them, there will be somebody who goes out and wants their Sean Connery moment. And they`re going to be on a lonely sort of highway or country road at 6:00 in the morning, and they`re going to want to do it. Whether or not that extends to somebody who is actually fleeing the police -- you know, anything is possible.

    OLBERMANN: Mr. Carracadis Pott from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will be joining us later to discuss the implications of that. David Kiley of AOL Autos and his own standup act, much obliged. Thank you very much .

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