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Wed April 4, 2012
Flying Car Glides Closer To Reality
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
A New England company thinks it's tackled a problem that has been vexing the auto industry for decades - how to make a car fly. For about $300,000, you buy a plane that drives on the ground and parks in your garage. It's called the Transition and it's meant to be just that, bridging the gap between road and sky.
NPR's Sonari Glinton has our story from the New York Auto Show.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: There's not really anything new in the car industry. Just to give you an idea, Henry Ford started selling Model Ts in October of 1908. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Selden Day a patent for a flying or air car eight months earlier. And, since then, the idea has essentially only flown in our imaginations.
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GLINTON: The '60s futuristic cartoon, "The Jetsons," by Hanna-Barbera put a visual on the flying car for most people. A flying car with a bubble that makes that funny sound.
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GLINTON: Meet Samuel Schweighart. He's one of the founders of Terrafugia. Terrafugia is Latin for escape the earth. The company is trying to make the flying car a reality. They call it the Transition.
SAMUEL SCHWEIGHART: Not quite fully a Jetsons car. We're not taking off from the top of our apartment building or have a big bubble. But we think it's the first step towards the Jetson car or towards a true flying car, however you envision it. So, we want to be known as the people that got it there. The Wright brothers of flying cars, you could say.
GLINTON: And by first step - and the Transition is genuinely a first step - it has big, fold-up wings and it vaguely looks like a car that flies.
SCHWEIGHART: Or more like an airplane that drives.
GLINTON: Now, that seems like an important distinction.
SCHWEIGHART: We think of it, first and foremost, as an aircraft. That puts us in the right mindset of both the expectations of what it does and just kind of how it looks, so it flies. You land in an airport, but it has the added capability of (unintelligible) out of the airport, you can fold the wings up and drive it on the road. It's a street legal car. Take it home. Take it to where you're trying to go. Take it to the store.
GLINTON: I met Schweighart on the loading dock of the Jacob Javits Center in New York, where they've taken the Transition to this week's New York Auto Show. It's amazing how people responded to the idea of a flying car.
Tony Monico(ph) was one of the teamsters on the dock. He's done 17 auto shows. He says he can't imagine driving or flying the Transition in New York, but maybe.
TONY MONICO: Something where you can start to fly when you're in the desert and you just take off and go. Never seen one yet like this. This is real nice.
GLINTON: The car looks like a plane with the wings folded up. On the ground, it goes about 80 miles an hour, about 100 in the air. And at $300,000, it won't be clogging the skies yet.
GEOFF WARDLE: Certain everybody, since they saw the Jetsons, has wondered why we haven't got flying cars yet. And it seems like the ultimate form of freedom, a way of beating all of the traffic gridlock.
GLINTON: Geoff Wardle is a professor of advanced mobility research at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. That means he thinks and teaches about how we drive now and in the future. Wardle says there are some very hard design challenges that keep cars on the ground.
WARDLE: There's a difference between a fender bender on the 405 Freeway and a fender bender at 8,000 feet.
GLINTON: Wardle says there's an even greater challenge with infrastructure and educating people about flying.
WARDLE: Why do we want to take the problems that we have on the ground at the moment with the number of vehicles that congest our streets? Why would we want to move that problem into the sky?
GLINTON: But there's no fun in that, is it?
WARDLE: Well, that's a good question. It depends. You think driving in Los Angeles on the 405 at the peak hours at the moment is fun?
GLINTON: Wardle says he firmly believes there's a lot of fun to be had here on the ground, but he says this car is a first step and a boy can dream.
Sonari Glinton, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.