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2012-04-03 07:19

IS IT A CAR, IS IT A BIRD...? American company Terrafugia has gone legal with its Transition flying car - 800km on a tank.

Washington - Drivers hoping to slip the traffic-congested bonds of Earth are a step closer to realising their dream with a US company announcing it had successfully tested a street-legal plane.

Massachusetts-based Terrafugia said its production prototype Transition car-plane had completed an eight-minute test flight, clearing the way for it to hit the market within a year.

Company founder Carl Dietrich said: "With this flight, the team demonstrated an ability to accomplish what had been called an impossible dream.

"The Transition Street-Legal Airplane is now a significant step closer to being a commercial reality.”

CHEAPER AND LIGHTER

The two-seater, which has the rounded features of a Fiat 500 and collapsible wings, is on pre-sale for $279 000 and about 100 have already been ordered.

While many companies have successfully built a flying car none has built more than a few. Things have changed since the clunky Curtiss Autoplane hopped and spluttered into action in the early 1900’s.

New materials and computer-aided design mean today's flying cars are cheaper and lighter to build. They also look more "Blade Runner" than "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

"Is it going to be like the Jetsons, everybody driving one in five years? No," admitted Winfield Keller, vice-president of trade group The International Flying Car Association, “but we are getting to the point where 10, maybe 15, years from now everyday people will own and operate them."

Meanwhile manufacturers hope they can build something that appeals to border security agencies, the police and the military, as well as hobbyists.

Terrafugia is targeting pilots looking for a bit more flexibility and fewer hangar fees.

Wings folded, the Transition is 2.3m wide – about the same as a large car – and fits a standard garage. Out in the open, its wings unfold to eight metres wide.

“The Transition,” its makers say, “offers unparalleled freedom of movement with a range of about 800km and without the need to check your luggage.”

OTHER BUILDERS

However, owners will need a driver's and pilot's licence – the latter with a minimum of 20 hours’ flying time – and 760m of “runway” to get airborne.

At least two other companies are racing to bring an autoplane to the market. Dutch company PAL-V has tested a prototype gyrocopter-style car and hopes to have a production prototype ready in 2014.

California-based Moller International has built a “personal vertical take-off and landing aircraft”, although it requires a little more training to operate.



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