“We think this is the right time to start seriously looking at the challenges associated with creating what people call a flying car," he says. "The vision is to try to create the future of personal transportation that people have dreamed about for years." Dietrich believes all the required technology already exists, and that initial discussions with the US Federal Aviation Administration suggest existing regulatory obstacles can be overcome.
Terrafugia is just one of a number of companies proposing personal aviation and it has been taking orders for an earlier design – the Transition, a road-legal aeroplane with foldable wings – for several years. The TF-X design is more futuristic, but is more likely to provide what most of us dream of when we think of flying cars.
One of its main selling points is the ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter. In car mode, the plug-in hybrid can rely on its electric motors and battery packs. For lift-off it needs extra power from its hydrocarbon combustion engine. Folded winglets are extended. Two huge motor pods on either side of the vehicle are pointed vertically up, and the propellers provide lift. Each pod has 16 independent electric motors, with its own controller and battery pack, meaning a failure is not catastrophic.
When it attains the required altitude the pods start to point forward. A ducted fan at the rear provides thrust and the wings start to operate as a conventional aerodynamic surface to provide lift as it accelerates. At full speed the propellers on the ends of the pods fold back and the vehicle enters “cruise” mode. The TF-X has a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour and a proposed range of 500 miles.