For years scientists dreamed of inventing a mode of travel that would combine the everyday horror of automobile carnage with the terror-stricken rarity of an airplane crash.
Sure, the “car-boat” has been around since the 1950s, but there is nothing sexy about a van turning itself into an over-sized flotation device. Frankly, the boat-car is the form of transport you choose when you’re intending to rescind a marriage proposal. The flying car, however, was the holy grail of nerd-lust. As early as 1949, designers were churning out failed prototypes.
Yet today, thanks to the efforts of a gaggle of MIT grads, that dream is one step closer to becoming a reality. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced two weeks ago that it was granting special exemptions that would allow Massachusetts-based Terrafugia to begin delivery of its “Transition Roadable Aircraft” (read: car-plane or plane-car) once certification testing is complete.
Last year, the Federal Aviation Commission gave Terrafugia permission to fly its car-plane as a “light sport aircraft.” The NHTSA exemptions allow Terrafugia’s flying car to use Plexiglas windows and aircraft landing-capable tires on the highway. The Transition has retractable wings that make it suitable for land travel. It made its first flight in 2009. Consumers who have the $250,000 the flying car is expected to cost should be able to have one in their driveway by 2012. That’s at least two years earlier than predicted by the Back to the Future movies. Take that, Doc!
Skeptics might argue that the world does not need flying cars. We have enough problems. In fact, one of the nicest things about flying is not being stuck in traffic jams. Another great thing was not being able to use the telephone or a computer but these pleasures have already been lost. Conversely, one of the best things about travel by automobile is avoiding seven hours of cavity searches, surly customs officials and baggage claims. When you combine these two modes of transport these perks are lost. It’s like inventing whole-wheat pasta.
Who will be able to operate a car-plane? In the United States, potential flying-car jockeys will need a Sports Pilot Licence and 20 hours of flight time. This is not as hard as it sounds. So you can one day expect to find all those people, the ones cutting you off, driving like maniacs, talking and texting while they drive, up in the sky pulling the same kind of stunts. All the frustrations and stupidity we encounter here on earth will now be transported to the heavens. There could be traffic jams in the atmosphere.
Who is the flying car’s target customer? According to Physorg.com “it’s clear the new vehicle will be marketed towards the well-to-do, who have the money to pay for such a vehicle (and its maintenance), space to house it, and private destinations that can accommodate both flying and driving.”
Or it may be that the target customer is anyone whose number one ambition is to be the first to die in a flying car. Honestly, I have no idea what the Transition’s final fate will be but I am certain that there are four things people can expect to say more often when car/aircraft is widely available:
- Look honey, a falling car.
- How was I supposed to know Apple was going to put out a flying car?
- I love my flying car. It combines h the freedom and excitement of flying with the going nowhere of car travel.
- Cyclists against flying cars unite!
It’s Not About the Bike
Many insults are thrown back and forth between cyclists and motorists. The maelstrom heated up a few weeks ago after a Toronto cyclist driving the wrong way on a one-way street struck a 56-year-old female pedestrian. Her skull was fractured. He was fined $400. For many it was evidence of the blatant contempt cyclists have for the rules of the road. To cyclists, it was evidence of a bike witch-hunt. Severe accidents caused by cyclists are rare, they argued, especially when compared to the damage caused by motorists, so why pick on a freak accident?
Allow me to clear things up when I say – with complete conviction – it’s not about the bike.
The guy who rides the wrong way on his bicycle is the same idiot who almost runs you over in his car. After a long day driving dangerously he comes home, parks the family vehicle and then relaxes by going on a dangerous two-wheeled tour.
The problem is not the hardware. You could stick him on a tricycle and he’d still be a menace. It’s not bicycles or cars. It’s us. We’re human. We’re egomaniacs. We’re stupid.
When horses were the primary mode of transport there were idiots in tri-cornered hats riding around crashing into one another. Watch any movie from the 1940s. If you see a kid riding a horse you know it’s not going to end well.
The problem lies with cyclists who think, “It would be easier for me to drive my bike the wrong way on this street” and then do it. The problem lies with drivers who think, “It’ll be quicker if I park in this bike lane” and then curse cyclists who are forced to merge into main lanes.
I’d like to tell you things will improve but evolution is a slow process. I’ve said it before, and I am a little under my word count, so I will say it again. The fault, dear commuters, lies not in our cars or in our bikes, but in ourselves.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy