Flying car ready for lift-off

The Terrafugia Transition.
The Terrafugia Transition. Drive

IT'S not quite the Jetsons, but an aerospace company's 'flying car' prototype has been cleared for take-off on US roads.

Massachusetts-based Terrafugia has been granted a number of special exemptions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help move the flying/driving hybrid vehicle a step closer to reality.

The NHTSA has approved the Transition's tyres for highway speeds, rubber that must cope with stresses of take-offs and landings but normally disallowed for multi-purpose vehicles.

Terrafugia has also been permitted to use lighter, shatterproof clear plastic for the cockpit surround instead of the traditional laminated glass used by conventional cars and SUVs. It helps reduce mass and make the plane-cum-car safer for the driver/pilot in the event of a bird strike.

"These exemptions pave the way for Terrafugia to begin deliveries once Terrafugia's rigorous certification testing program is complete," said the company in a press release.

The Transition, which is effectively a light aircraft that is capable of driving on the road once its wings are folded upwards, already features car-like crumple zones and driver/passenger airbags, as well as a carbonfibre passenger safety cell.

Terrafugia had been aiming to bring the Transition to market by the end of the year, but US media reports say some design and third-party-supplier issues mean the vehicle is unlikely to go on sale until 2012.

Pricing has yet to be confirmed for the Transition, but speculation says it will be about $200,000.

In part of its summary for granting the exemptions, the NTHSA said it wanted to help make the Transition a viable business case.

"The basis for the exemption is that compliance with these requirements would cause substantial economic hardship to a manufacturer that has tried in good faith to comply with the standard."

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