Meet the World’s 1st Flying Car to Get FAA Clearance for Takeoff

Flying cars have long been the stuff of fiction, from The Jetsons to Blade Runner to Back to the Future. Though they’ve appeared in sci-fi for decades, they exist in real life too. And now, the FAA has cleared the first flying car for takeoff in the United States, joining airplanes in the friendly skies. Here’s a look at the Terrafugia Transition.

How does a flying car work?

An XPeng single-seat flying car on display at Auto Shanghai 2021 in April in Shanghai, China
A flying car at Auto Shanghai 2021 | VCG/VCG via Getty Images

It sounds like it should be easy to identify what a flying car is, but how is it different from a regular airplane, which does do some driving on the ground? According to Udacity, a flying car can be defined as “a hybrid vehicle that combines fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft capabilities.”

These roadable aircraft ideally have airplane and helicopter capabilities, along with software to make them easy for regular people to use. In addition, flying cars must meet road and safety standards to be street-legal.

The Terrafugia Transition: the 1st flying car cleared for takeoff by the FAA

Earlier this year, the FAA approved the first flying car, Robb Report reported. The car in question is the Transition “roadable aircraft.” Its maker, Terrafugia, is located in Massachusetts and owned by the Chinese corporation Geely, which also owns Volvo and Lotus. The FAA awarded the two-seater a Special Light-Sport Aircraft airworthiness certificate.

Terrafugia described receiving the certificate as a “significant milestone,” according to the Robb Report. “This is a major accomplishment that builds momentum in executing our mission to deliver the world’s first practical flying car,” Kevin Colburn, general manager of Terrafugia, said. In addition to building the car, the company also developed 150 technical documents for the FAA assessment.

The Transition is already available as a plane, but there won’t be a street-legal version until 2022. The flying car will need to meet both the FAA’s and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s safety regulations. People who want to drive and fly the Transition will need a valid sport pilot certificate and driver’s license.

Although the Terrafugia Transition has a 27-foot wingspan, those wings fold up so the flying car can fit into a single-car garage. It resembles an airplane more than a car and still needs a runway for takeoff. It has a range of about 400 miles and a flight speed of about 100 mph. The flying car has a 100-hp Rotax 912iS Sport fuel-injected engine, according to Terrafugia. It runs on premium gasoline or 100LL airplane fuel. The car version will pack a hybrid-electric motor.

The Transition comes standard with “a Dynon Skyview avionics package, a BRS airframe parachute, four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, airbags, [and] a rigid carbon-fiber safety cage that meets automotive standards.” The interior boasts luxury finishes with leather seats, and its shifter includes Park, Drive, and Fly selections.

What is the FAA, and what does it do?

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“FAA” is short for “Federal Aviation Administration.” This agency regulates aviation in the United States. It’s in charge of registering aircraft, developing aircraft safety standards, creating air traffic rules, overseeing air traffic control, and investigating accidents.

The FAA also certifies foreign aircraft repair facilities and their mechanics. It shares aeronautical data and negotiates bilateral airworthiness agreements with other countries. In addition, the FAA licenses space launch facilities to private companies like SpaceX through its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).

Flying cars could help reduce commute times, decrease reliance on roads, and increase access to remote locations. The FAA is one of the government agencies charged with approving these new vehicles. The Terrafugia Transition has earned the FAA’s approval and now needs to meet the NHTSA’s requirements.