Technology

Are Flying Cars Finally Becoming Reality?

May 7, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

Photo credit: The Terrafugia TF-X flies and drives, but it's not really a flying car.

Aircraft company Terrafugia have released a video announcing the vehicle they hope will make flying cars a reality, at least for those not  thrown by a $279,000 price tag. No doubt, like all new technologies, the price will come down if enough people buy it for economies of scale to kick in. There are some rather large problems to be overcome before these vehicles become more than a toy for people with no idea what to do with their money, but before we get to that, enjoy the video.

As a technological marvel it's impressive, and an interesting insight how mature technologies such as hybrid engines and driverless controls have become. It is easy to see how the TF-X as it will be called, could replace helicopters for many uses and light planes for some. However, if you're stuck in traffic and dreaming of a way to jump the queue there are a few problems besides the price.
 
Physicist and science fiction writer Gregory Benford famously pointed out,“If you optimize the performance of a car and of an airplane, they are very far away in terms of mechanical features. So you can make a flying car. But they are not very good planes, and they are not very good cars.” 
 
Put like that it is easy to see why we're not all getting to work this way, but science fiction has predisposed us to believe it must be possible. Surely all those animations and CGI effects wouldn't lie? No one seems likely to get around that problem. Consequently, anything labeled a flying car will probably either be a car that can fly for short distances occasionally but doesn't do it well, or a plane that can drive when the weather is bad or in areas where flying is illegal.
 
Even aside from the technical problems and price there are a few more issues to consider.  It has been noted that basic small planes are already “cheaper than divorce”. We don't all snap up planes for $10,000, let alone ultralights for half that, partly because you need a pilot's license to fly one. 
 
The TF-X promises to go wherever you want on autopilot, removing the need for all those lessons. However, in a post 9/11 age will it really be as easy to get a pilot's license as it now is to get one to drive a car? It's not clear what use a four seater is, at least in the United States, when Federal Aviation Administration rules place it in a class only allowed to carry one passenger. Popular Mechanics has even more cold water to throw on the idea. 
 
But if you still want to dream enjoy footage of Terrafugia's existing model going through its paces.