Still waiting on the jetpacks, but...
May 6, 2013 2:01 PM   Subscribe

With the Terrafugia Transition flying car (or drivable plane) getting closer to production (though there are doubters), the company has released plans for the TF-X, which looks like the flying car of our dreams. The plans call for a hybrid electric fully-automated transforming car that can take-off and land vertically, travel 200 mph, and not require a pilots license. Flying cars are apparently hot again, with crowdfunded efforts, a mysterious Silicon Valley startup Zee.Aero, the UK's AugustWestland, and the AirMule getting into the game; all while Terrafugia is also developing a "flying humvee" for the military. Of course, we have seen this all before, including one of the first flying cars, which was built around a Ford Pinto and killed its inventors.
posted by blahblahblah (33 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can buy your jetpack now!
posted by sammyo at 2:07 PM on May 6, 2013

travel 200 mph, and not require a pilots license

I can't imagine how this would work. In the US, even the light sport aircraft (LSA) pilot certificate (a newer option that doesn't require a medical exam) is limited to aircraft with a 138 mph (120 knots) top speed in level flight. The original Terrafugia is, I believe, aimed to be an LSA.

Related, here's a neat article on flying the Solar Impulse.
posted by exogenous at 2:09 PM on May 6, 2013

exogenous - in the article, Terrafugia says that they are betting that the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act will open the way to autonomous air vehicles in the next decade.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:13 PM on May 6, 2013

Thank you for reminding me of my favorite wikipedia page of all time: List of Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions.
posted by brand-gnu at 2:14 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good luck parallel parking that.

I have to imagine that the road wear can't be great for the frame, wings, or the wee little wheels (which don't look particularly roadworthy)

It looks like the Aptera, but with wings.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:15 PM on May 6, 2013

The flying car is a dopey idea. Cheap, easy to operate, safe, quiet, vtl aircraft? Good idea, bolting a Pinto to the airframe? Stupid.

Actually with the exception of a few very stubborn commuters, cheap planes are unnecessary. And the few that actually would benefit, likely residents of Houston or LA, should just recognize their dream of 4000 sq feet on a quarter acre lot is ridiculous and move from exurbs into the city and a nice apartment.

Flying cars are the answer to a problem current urban planning trends made obsolete 20 years ago.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:27 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

A robot pilot flying live people around? I don't forsee this in the US within next two or three decades, much less the next decade.

The ADS-B out mandate (just a tiny building block in such a goal) isn't until 2020 and is likely to be pushed back with federal budget issues, etc. The mandate doesn't cover all the airspace either, so the robot pilot will have to somehow see and avoid piloted aircraft that do not have the transmitters in such places, or impractically avoid that airspace entirely.

While I know that some drones have done autonomous takeoffs and landings, doing this reliably with human lives at stake, and demonstrating this capability sufficiently for US government approval, will take a long, long time. There are also loads of small airports (e.g. my home base) that don't have, and will likely never have, the sort of sophisticated LPV (or better) instrument approaches that would be required, due to runway length and nearby terrain/obstacles.
posted by exogenous at 2:29 PM on May 6, 2013

they are betting that the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act will open the way to autonomous air vehicles in the next decade.

That's the most optimistic thing I'll read all week. Unless they mean "unmanned autonomous air vehicle", and even that's highly controversial.
posted by Nelson at 2:29 PM on May 6, 2013

How's a mid-sized car with VTOL capability going to avoid the vortex ring state issue? As a plug-in hybrid, the TF-X will also have to lift at least 2-300lbs for the main passenger, as well as another 600-1100+ lbs. for the battery weight, which would limit passenger and cargo room if the vehicle that small were to provide lift-off thrust unassisted.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:36 PM on May 6, 2013

Sweet fucking Jesus they'd better require some kind of pilot's license. And it had better be tough to get. I don't want to have to worry about a bunch of texting teenagers, blue hairs, or "I only had two drinks" assholes plowing into my roof or flying into the side of a passenger jet.
posted by chasing at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

In fact, I'm perfectly happy leaving piloting air craft to a very small number of highly trained people.

But then, I'd also be happier if it required more of an effort to simply get a driver's license.
posted by chasing at 2:45 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Getting closer to production". While you're waiting, I can get you a great deal on the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge privatization. Just call me at 1-800-GULLIBLE!!!!!!!
posted by monotreme at 2:50 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I simply can't believe the TF-X is feasible. Too much weight, not enough wing area. The rotors are far too tiny to support it. It's ridiculously optimistic.
posted by Doohickie at 2:51 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

limited to aircraft with a 138 mph

Greasing palms to get federal regulations changed in their favour should prove no problem for Big Flyingcar
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:00 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the sort of people who are financially able to avail themselves of light aviation as real, matter-of-course transportation are going to be very keen on advertising to their neighbors that they aren't quite able to afford both a crummy car and a crummy plane.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:00 PM on May 6, 2013

I'd be on board with thus, but these designs just don't meet my needs. They need at least one bipedal robot mode*.

* Even if that means scrapping one of the alt-modes.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:03 PM on May 6, 2013

I can get you a great deal on the upcoming Brooklyn Bridge privatization. Just call me at 1-800-GULLIBLE!!!!!!!

Sadly, that's not much of a joke anymore.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:17 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't believe that TFX as shown in the video would be able to fly. I don't believe those wings are big enough.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:37 PM on May 6, 2013

And flying vehicles don’t face the same hazards that cars do—pedestrians, other cars, traffic signals, bad roads—though they do have their own safety issues (like falling from the sky).

These benefits only last until there are two flying cars. Then you get collisions and falling onto pedestrians who have to worry about being killed from an entirely new direction.. Maybe no traffic lights though.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:52 PM on May 6, 2013

I can't believe that grown adults would invest money in and proceed to work on flying car designs. It reminds me of those scenes in the Fifth Element where you have dense multi-layered traffic in the cities of the future. All it takes is one fender-bender at five-hundred feet to cause hundreds of deaths and property damage. Nobody will want to spend time near the ground when an accident somewhere overhead can dump hundreds of tons of metal on you.
posted by Edgewise at 4:06 PM on May 6, 2013

“It‘s the twenty-first century. I was promised a flying car. Dammit, where‘s my flying car?“

I know a lot of us out there (or maybe just me, could be just me) made this or similar jokes back around the turn of the millenium, but the reality is, we don‘t need flying cars. Just like the Amphicar car/boat thing back in the fifties, this is addressing a transportation requirement no reasonable human being has.

I‘m sorry, but that Transition is just an absolutely horrible idea; again, like the Amphicar, it makes too many compromises in combining the traits of two vehicles to be entirely effective as either. In car mode, you‘ve got giant blind spots to either side of you, plus that huge tail out back, so yeah, parallel parking, backing up, changing lanes... hilarity ensues.

And okay, I‘m not a pilot, but did that thing just seem really, oh, I don‘t know... ungainly in the air? MeFi pilots, what say you... Would this thing actually be any fun to fly?
posted by Jughead at 4:26 PM on May 6, 2013

It looks a little less like a "flying car" and more like a "foldable plane."
posted by xingcat at 4:49 PM on May 6, 2013

"As God is my witness, I thought cars could fly."
posted by zippy at 5:10 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

It amused me more than it should, that while the folding wings were fully automated, he still had to get out to manually tuck in the side mirrors.
posted by xedrik at 5:35 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Big Flyingcar

Oh gosh like "Massive Dynamic" big? It'd been reading a bit about the project and had an errand in the general area and checked the corporate address, drove by, I'd like to say a small industrial district, but really more like the guys garage in a nice residential area.
posted by sammyo at 5:40 PM on May 6, 2013

Aw hell! I already spent all of my money on the deposit for my Moller Sky Car which is certain to be available any day now. Moller Int'l just keep having really small, but easily fixable problems with them.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:58 PM on May 6, 2013

I think there might be two possible viable markets for a roadable aircraft: recreational pilots who have a garage but can't get or afford hanger space (which is not uncommon) and recreational touring. Neither of those require a particularly capable aircraft; something like a cross between a motor scooter and powered parachute might work. Nobody is going to commute with one anytime soon, I am convinced.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:19 PM on May 6, 2013

So part of what's weird about this TF-X hype is that up until now Terrafugia has been a fairly responsible company in what they've promised. The founding team are from MIT Aero/Astro, a serious and solid place to learn aircraft engineering. And their communication about the Transition has been sensible and down to earth. They've been testing the thing carefully and they've been smart to promote it as a "driveable plane" instead of a "flying car" to position the thing in a reasonable place.

I can't comment on whether this TF-X design as shown is a realistic flying machine, but it sure sounds like someone decided to get out a bunch of hype without doing careful work behind it. The engineering issues look enormous, not to mention the regulatory and pilot training issues. It seems wildly optimistic.
posted by Nelson at 6:24 PM on May 6, 2013

That's pretty cool, BUT...

1. No way in hell anyone should get to fly anything remotely plane-like without a license.
2. The transition seems like it squanders a lot of weight and complexity on the motors and linkages used to expand and retract the wings. Are they really too heavy for manual deployment and retraction?
3. No way in hell I will set foot in one of those things (unless there are lizard people closing in and it's my only means of escape).
posted by Mister_A at 6:37 PM on May 6, 2013

They've been testing the thing carefully and they've been smart to promote it as a "driveable plane" instead of a "flying car" to position the thing in a reasonable place.

Yeah, this is how I'm reading it; not so much "commute in your car-plane" but more of an option for recreational pilots who can't afford hangar space. Park it in your garage, drive to the airport, fly to the next airport, park it on the street.
posted by xedrik at 7:16 PM on May 6, 2013

Heh. I saw a Moller Skycar in an exhibit when I was 10 or so. I really believed at the time that flying cars were just around the corner. The sign said it could fly at 400 miles an hour! Can't believe they're still at it.
posted by miyabo at 9:29 PM on May 6, 2013

When the engine in your car quits, you can push it onto the shoulder. When the engine in your flying car quits, the outcome is slightly more dire.
posted by Betafae at 11:43 PM on May 6, 2013

The images of the "Flying Humvee" look mostly like someone put wings on a 70s FIAT.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:43 AM on May 7, 2013

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