Flyable cars

Regular News Cut reader Brian Hanf sends me news that, in his words, “My flying car is coming.”

His link reveals that a Boston-area company is planning flight tests of a two-seater airplane that doubles as a car.

Either way, it boils down to this: You sit down behind the steering wheel, drive to the runway, unfold two wings and take off. You can fly 500 miles on a tank of gas — regular unleaded — and when you land, you simply fold up the wings and drive where you want to go. At the end of the day, you fly back, drive home and park inside your garage.

It’s an idea that many have considered but nobody has yet perfected. Judging by an article last May, this project is already behind schedule.

Terrafugia wants to deliver the first Transition to a customer by the end of 2009 and go into large-scale production by 2012. If you were just building a new type of plane or a new type of car, that schedule would be ambitious enough. But the Transition is both–and if, as the company intends, pilots are to land the vehicle on an airport runway, fold up the wings, and tool right out onto public highways, then this hybrid-of-a-different-color will have to meet federal standards for both aviation safety and highway safety.

Of course, the only thing worse than the new-car market right now is the small-airplane market, but putting that aside, what other challenges does this idea face? The skies are one of the few areas where there’s not gridlock, and the government seems to have no plan at all for flying cars.

>>The developer points to the new “light sport aircraft” rules as a way to get FAA approval for his machine. But planes licensed under those rules can’t fly at night.

>> It’s only a matter of time before some neighbor decides the cul de sac would be a great thing to use as a runway.

>> Shouldn’t Minnesotans learn how to merge on the highway first?

A lot of the focus of these stories is on the airplane-side of the equation. But it’s the car side that’s notoriously undependable. On your way home from work tonight, count the number of cars broken down by the side of the road.