What comes next after a car-plane hybrid? Why, a cross between a car and a helicopter of course.
Terrafugia, the company behind a flying car due for delivery to buyers in a couple of years, is now working on a model that would take off vertically, meaning no runway would be required.
As we covered last year, the company’s existing model Transition runs on ordinary unleaded fuel and can be driven on an ordinary license. In effect it’s exactly the same as an ordinary car except that inside of 15 seconds you can unfold the wings and begin takeoff. The only legal restrictions are that you need a sport pilot license and a runway of at least 2,500 feet.
Since last year’s maiden flight for a prototype that’s close to the intended retail version, the company has reached around 50 hours combined flight time. It still needs to go through several official safety tests but is scheduled to reach buyers in 2015, which should certainly shut up the tiresome Back to the Future II fans who are banging on about missing hoverboards.
Now the company has unveiled its second model, which is at this point simply a “vision”. The TF-X — which certainly has a little TIE-Fighter about it — would have shorter wings than those on the Transition.
At take off the propellers built into the wings would allow it to take off almost vertically. Once the vehicle was airborne, the wings would fold out so the propeller sections were horizontal, allowing normal flight. The idea is that pilots could take off and land from heliports or other open flat space.
Terrafugia says it envisions having a database of approved landing spaces. Pilots could then select a primary landing site and two back-ups. If needed, the vehicle could land automatically at any of these sites. The plan is also that if the vehicles encroaches on an airport’s space (for example if the driver has been incapacitated or taken leave of their senses), the vehicle could make an immediate emergency landing either vertically or horizontally depending on the surroundings.
While the Transition runs on ordinary fuel, the TF-X would be a hybrid with most of the flying powered by a rechargeable electric supply. This could be charged from existing electric car charging stations, or charged from the engine itself while driving (similar to an RV’s leisure battery.)
According to Terrafugia, it’s likely to be eight to 12 years before the TF-X is ready for sale. However, it has promised that anyone who buys a Transition will get the first option to buy a TF-X, making them the first people ever to get an upgrade to their flying car.