World first: FAA grants flying car the green light

written by Hannah Dowling | February 16, 2021
Terrafugia’s Transition has been granted and FAA airworthiness certificate (Terrafugia)

A two-seater flying car has been awarded an airworthiness certificate by the FAA for the first time, which could see the product on US roads (and skies) by next year.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded a Special Light-Sport Aircraft airworthiness certification to Volvo-owned Terrafugia’s ‘Transition’ vehicle, a hybrid “roadable aircraft” – or, in other words, a flying car.

Transition presents as a small airplane with retractable wings that leaves it capable of comfortably parking within a single garage space.

The hybrid ground-air vehicle is capable of flying at speeds of up to 100 mph, a height of up to 10,000 feet, for a range of up to 400 miles.

While the company still has some ways to go before the vehicle can be used on both road and sky, Terrafugia has called the FAA’s decision a “significant milestone” in getting the product into commercial use.

The company sees the final version of its flying car – which can convert from being a road vehicle to a flying one in less than a minute – available to the public in 2022.

Currently, a ‘flight-only’ airplane version of Transition is now approved and available to pilots and flight schools.

However the hybrid version, which will eventually convert from aircraft to roadworthy vehicle, will need another year of testing to become ‘street legal’, according to the company.

Due to the nature of the vehicle, being both a car and a flying vehicle, the product needs to be vetted by both the FAA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Eventually, once Transition gets all its necessary approvals, drivers of the vehicle will need both a driver’s licence and a sport pilot’s licence in order to operate the two-seater flying car.

Kevin Colburn, general manager of Terrafugia, said the company was “excited” to obtain the FAA certificate, and praised his team’s efforts during “an extremely challenging pandemic year”.

“Our team remained focused, improved our quality system, completed the critical aspects of the design, built the vehicle, completed 80 days of flight testing, delivered 150 technical documents and successfully passed the FAA audit,” Colburn said.

“This is a major accomplishment that builds momentum in executing our mission to deliver the world’s first practical flying car.”

Terrafugia’s Transition weighs roughly half a tonne and has a 27-foot wingspan that can be folded for storage.

The plane can run either on premium gasoline or on 100LL airplane fuel, while the car component is powered by a hybrid-electric motor.

The company reportedly envisions vehicle owners landing their Transition at a small airport or a stretch of highway and then driving it home.

Terrafugia is also currently developing several other models of flying cars, including the TF-X – a four-seat hybrid eVTOL that is semi-autonomous.

Its TF-X computer system will be able to automatically navigate to a predetermined destination, while avoiding air traffic, bad weather, and restricted airspace, according to Terrafugia.

Meanwhile, according to the executive director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Intergration Program Jay Merkle, at least six eVTOL aircraft are “well along” on their journey towards earning type certification from the FAA.

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