May 23 - New England aviation company Terrafugia has unveiled its latest conceptual version of a flying car. Unlike its current flying car, which is designed for pilots, the new design incorporates autonomous functionality, a move the company says will open up the skies to everybody. Ben Gruber has more.
Terrafugia's TFX flying-car is designed to take long-distance commuters wherever they want to go - first along roads and then through the air - quickly and efficiently. Assuming the concept gets off the ground, the TFX will have a range of 500 miles and a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour. And the vehicle's operator won't require a pilot's license. The TFX will take-off, fly and land autonomously. Terrafugia is already testing a flying car prototype called the Transition. It's designed for pilots who want to be able to drive their planes home instead of parking them at an airport. But CEO Carl Dietrich says the TFX is different - it's a flying car for the masses. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CARL DIETRICH, TERRAFUGIA CEO, SAYING: "We do want to create a flying car than can be used by a much broader segment of the population than just the pilot community today. We want to lower the barriers for entry. We want to make it easier to learn how to safely operate a vehicle. We want to make it safer than general aviation is today." Dietrich says the TFX's feasibility is the result of modern computer power. Occupants will need only input a programme to tell the car-plane where to go. Dietrich points out that most planes already have sophisticated auto pilot programs. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CARL DIETRICH, TERRAFUGIA CEO, SAYING: "These vehicles that need to be able to basically fly themselves need to know where every other aircraft is in the air space. They need to know where weather fronts are that the need to avoid. They need to know where restricted airspace pops up. So they need to be tied into basically a data network." Dietrich says that the FAA has been making great strides in recent years towards developing that network and he is confident a system will be up and running when the TFX is ready to take to the skies. But there is still the question of safety. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CARL DIETRICH, TERRAFUGIA CEO, SAYING: "Well there are certainly fail safe modes on the computer side but what happens if, if you want to get at the extreme, what happens when everything goes blank on you, when all of the power systems go down, everything. Well in that situation the operator still needs to be trained to do one thing. Pull a handle and that handle actually deploys a parachute. And this is a system that is currently on our current vehicle today, on the Transition, a rocket deployed system to bring the vehicle down safely under a parachute." And while Dietrich concedes that the TFX is only a concept, he believes the era of autonomous flying cars for the masses is just over the horizon.