Of all the iconic science-fiction transport concepts, the flying car is perhaps the most elusive. Over a century of powered flight has not brought us any closer to the dream of an everyday vehicle capable of flight.
Undeterred, US company Terrafugia has revealed its latest plans: a hybrid vehicle capable of vertical take-off and landing, equipped with an autopilot to make navigation simpler for the average motorist/pilot.
Currently only a concept in CGI simulation, the TF-X is envisaged as a tilt-rotor aircraft. Its folding wings carry electrically-powered rotors at their tips, which pivot upwards to lift the vehicle and up to four occupants off the ground and bring them in for landing. Each powered by 16 separate electric motors, the rotor pods are rated at 600kW.
Once in the air, the rotors pivot once again to face forwards, and are joined by a 300hp engine powering a pusher-prop at the rear of the vehicle to speed the TF-X up to cruising velocity. The rotors then stop, their blades fold flat against the rotor pods, and the pusher-prop alone handles cruising flight. Flying range will be around 500 miles, says Terrafugia, and take-off is possible from ‘a level clearing of 100m in diameter’ with no need for an airstrip.
While on the ground with wings folded, the vehicle will operate as a range-extended electric vehicle; its battery can be charged by plugging-in while stationary or using the engine while driving, Terrafugia says.
The vehicle is to be equipped with safety systems including a parachute to bring the entire unit to the ground. The navigation system also includes fail safes, disabling flight if there is insufficient charge and fuel, and if weather forecasts were unfavourable. Terrafugia claims that it should take an average driver ‘no longer than five hours’ to learn how to handle a TF-X.
The company claims that the vehicle could be available within 8-12 years. The price is certain to be above those of a standard car, it admits, owing to the cost of lightweight materials, but it believes that it ‘could be on-par with very high-end luxury cars of today.’