Flying Cars Technology

‘Flying car’, ‘roadable aircraft’, ‘dual-mode vehicle’ and other terms are used to describe the all-purpose vehicle that can fly like an airplane and drive on the highway like an automobile. Make it amphibious and we have the perfect all-purpose vehicle! Nevertheless, this might be taking our ideas a bit too far.

It has long been the dream of aviation and automobile enthusiasts to have a vehicle that will bring them the best of both worlds. Many drivers stuck in rush hour traffic have fantasies about being able to push a button and watch their car’s wings unfurl as they lift above the stalled cars in front of them. Just as many pilots who have been grounded at an airport far from home by inclement weather have wished for some way to wheel their airplane out onto the highway and drive home. This yearning has resulted in many designs for roadable aircraft since as early as 1906.

A designer of a flying car will encounter many obstacles, including conflicting regulations for aircraft and automobiles. As an automobile, such a vehicle must be able to fit within the width of a lane of traffic and pass under highway overpasses. It must be able to keep up with normal highway traffic and meet all safety regulations. It must also satisfy vehicle exhaust emission standards for automobiles. Therefore, the wings must be able to fold (or retract) and the tail or canard surfaces may have to be stowable. The emission standards and crashworthiness requirements will add weight to the design. The need for an engine/transmission system that can operate in the stop and go, accelerate and decelerate environment of the automobile will also add system complications and weight. 

The ‘flying car’, unlike the roadable aircraft, has proved to be more of a fantasy than an achievable reality. A key element in the development of a successful flying car is designing a control system that will enable a ‘driver’ who may not be a trained pilot to operate the vehicle in either mode of travel. This virtually necessitates a ‘category III capable’ automated control system for the vehicle. This must provide a ‘departure-to destination’ flight control, navigation and communication environment. Many experts feel that such a design is possible today, but only at high cost. Ideally, if the ‘flying car’ is to become the family car, it must have a price that is at least comparable to a luxury automobile (preferably less than 25 percent of the cost of the cheapest current four passenger general aviation aircraft).

Both the flying car and the roadable aircraft concepts usually assume a self-contained system capable of simple manual or even automated conversion between the car and airplane modes. A third choice is the dual-mode design which is capable of operation on the road or in the air but does not necessarily carry all the hardware needed for both modes with it at all times. One such vehicle was the Convair/Stinson CV-118 Aircar.Designed in the 1940s, it combined a very modern looking fiberglass body car with a wing/tail/engine structure that could be attached to the roof of the car for flight. This design successfully flew, and operated well on the highway, but was a victim of high cost and changing corporate goals for its manufacturer.

Another decision facing the designer of any airplane/automobile hybrid vehicle is whether to attempt to meet government standards for both types of vehicles. Unless one wishes to go to the extreme of developing a very lightweight flying motorbike which will operate under ultra-light regulations, one must meet FAR or JAR requirements for general aviation category aircraft. On the other hand, there is a choice when one considers the automotive aspects of the design.


The Transition is a light sport, roadable aircraft under development by Terrafugia, a small start-up company based in Woburn, Massachusetts.

The Rotax 912S piston engine powered, carbon-fiber vehicle is planned to have a flight range of 400 nmi (460 mi; 740 km) using automotive grade unleaded gasoline and a cruising flight speed of 115 mph (100 kn; 185 km/h). It does not come with an autopilot.

On the highway, it can drive up to 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) to keep up with traffic. The Transition Proof of Concept's folded dimensions of 6 ft 9 in (2.1 m) high, 6 ft 8 in (2.0 m) wide and 18 ft 9 in (5.7 m) long are designed to fit within a standard household garage. When operated as a car, the engine powers the front wheel drive. In flight, the engine drives a pusher propeller. The Transition's layout, with folding wings, pusher propeller and twin tail, is similar to experimental aircraft N8072 built by Dr. Lewis A. Jackson in Xenia, Indiana during the 1960s.

The experimental Transition Proof of Concept's first flight was successful and took place under FAA supervision at Plattsburgh International Airport in upstate New York using FAA tail number N302TF. First customer delivery, as of March 2009, is planned for 2011.

General characteristics

Crew: 1 pilot

 Capacity: 2, pilot and passenger

 Payload: 430 lb (200 kg)

 Length: 19 ft 2 in (5.8 m)

 Wingspan: 27 ft 6 in (8.4 m)

 Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.9 m)

 Empty weight: 890 lb (400 kg)

 Useful load: 430 lb (200 kg)

 Max takeoff weight: 1,320 lb (600 kg)

 Power plant: 1× Rotax 912S, 100 hp (75 kW) @ 5800 rpm (max. 5 minutes), 95 hp (71 kW)

@ 5500 rpm (continuous)

 Propellers: Prince Aircraft Company, four-bladed "P-Tip" propeller, 1 per engine

 Cockpit width: 51 in (1.3 m) at the shoulder

 Fuel capacity: 20 US gal (76 L; 17 imp gal)

 Length on road: 18 ft 9 in (5.7 m) with elevator up

 Width on road: 80 in (2.0 m) with wings folded

 Height on road: 6 ft 9 in (2.1 m)

 Front wheel drive on road


Cruise speed: 100 kts (115 mph or 185 km/h)

Stall speed: 45 kts (51 mph or 82 km/h)

Range: In flight 400 nmi (460 mi; 740 km); on road 600 mi (520 nmi; 970 km) ()

Maximum speed on road: 65 mph (105 km/h)

Fuel economy in cruise flight: 5 US gal (19 L) per hour

Fuel economy on road: 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg)

Certifications: Both FAA and FMVSS certifications planned.