Meet George Jetson, or at least the sort of flying car he might have driven if he wasn’t a haft-nosed cartoon and his UFO-style bubble-craft looked more like a smart car with wings. That’s it up top, an actual shot of its maiden outing on March 5, 2009 in Plattsburgh, New York, where a retired Air Force colonel put it through its paces over snow-glazed fields.
It’s been aptly dubbed the Transition, a “roadable aircraft” designed to shift from road to air and back again seamlessly—it was also selected as one of our 50 Best Inventions of 2010.
According to manufacturer Terrafugia, it “combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings with the ability to drive on any surface road in a modern personal airplane platform.” Tap a few buttons and the wings either extend or retract automatically, readying it for takeoff or prepping it for a drive (it sounds like Terrafugia missed an opportunity to tap Hasbro’s robot franchise by calling it the “Transformer”). It’s already been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for flight under the FAA’s “light sport aircraft” classification—even afforded an extra 110 pound special weight allowance—but getting it road-certified remained a work in progress.
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Until now. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just cleared the Transition to use lightweight plastic windows (heavier automotive safety glass is the standard) and cruise along the ground on tires typically not allowed on multipurpose vehicles. The glass exemption was crucial, according to Terrafugia, who wanted the lighter polycarbonate material to better handle impacts (say with birds) and to mitigate glass-based windshield cracking that might obscure the operator’s view. And the tires had to be heavier grade, capable of handling landings as well as standard road-based driving.
The NHTSA’s exemptions mean the Transition can use the same tires it employed successfully during those 2009 air and road trials. They also mean the car-plane could actually make its planned 2012 sales timeframe. It was originally due out late this year, but delays pushed initial deliveries back slightly.
How much to fly like a four-wheeled, pinstriped eagle? A cool $200,000, though Terrafugia’s already taking reservations for a “modest” $10,000 deposit.
(via Wall Street Journal)