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The Transition: 4 Things You Need to Know About the First Flying Car

For generations, future-minded dreamers have envisioned the skies crisscrossed by flying cars. Many are disappointed that those dreams remain unrealized this far into the 21st century – but that’s about to change. The Transition, by Terrafugia, made its first public flights at EAA AirVenture in mid-2013, and the company plans to make the vehicles available to consumers within the next two years.

So what do you need to know about the world’s first flying car?

A Plane You Can Drive

Image via Flickr by DanDawson

Image via Flickr by DanDawson

The most important thing to understand about the Transition is that it’s probably not the flying car you’ve imagined. Terrafugia co-founder Carl Dietrich has called it “a street legal airplane.” The Washington Post goes a bit further, saying it’s “a plane you can drive rather than a car you can fly.” The two-seat vehicle is a road-legal car capable of speeds up to 70 miles per hour on the ground. But extend its foldable wings and make a few other adjustments, and the car becomes a  plane that can travel up to 100 mph at altitudes up to 7,000 feet.

Big on Convenience

One feature that makes the Transition consumer-friendly is the fact that the four-cylinder Rotax 912iS engine runs on regular unleaded gas. The mileage is pretty good – 35 mpg on ground and 20 in the air – and auto fuel is easier on both the wallet and the environment than aviation fuel.

It’s operated via four pedals: gas and brake for driving and two rudders for flying. Push-button foldable wings mean it can be parked on the street or in a garage like any other car. Transitioning from car to plane takes about a minute, involving things like folding up the wings, swapping the steering wheel for a steering stick, and stashing the side mirrors. Throw in a preflight check, and you’re ready to take to the air.

Relies on Airports

In 2004, the FAA paved the way for the Transition by creating a light sport aircraft designation for planes weighing under 1,320 pounds and seating no more than two people. The Transition can take off and land at any of the United States’ more than 5,000 small regional airfields. Transition owners will need both a drivers’ license and a sport pilot certificate.

Terrafugia does have a model in development, the TF-X, that will be able to take off and land vertically and will mostly operate on autopilot, but development is estimated to require another eight to 12 years.

Safety Features to Calm Nerves

The Transition has several safety features. In the event of a low battery, the craft will automatically land itself at the nearest safe location. It has a parachute, deployed via a pilot-operated handle, plus airbags and seatbelts as required by the National Transportation Safety Administration. There’s no rear windshield, but a camera displays what’s behind you on a screen inside.

The Transition is an exciting first step toward the flying cars of our dreams. At $280,000, it’s out of reach for most consumers. But with more than 100 people putting down a $10,000 deposit as of November 2014, you may just see one on a road – or in a sky – near you soon.