Flying cars coming soon to a garage near you

We may soon see the first commercially produced flying car -- or is it a driving airplane?

Flying cars are no longer a thing of the future. In fact, you may soon be able to purchase one for the modest sum of around $250,000.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Terrafugia's Transition Roadable Aircraft several special exemptions, according to a statement from the company.

This means that once testing - including analysis and simulated crash testing - is complete and crash safety standards have been met, the company can begin delivering the unit to consumers.

The NHTSA exemptions will allow the Transition to use tires that are made for highway speeds and are meant to hold up during landing. These types of tires are usually not permitted on multi-purpose vehicles.

The Transition may also eschew heavier laminated automotive safety glass in favor of lighter polycarbonate windows, less likely to shatter in the event of a bird strike.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration also permitted the Terrafugia to weigh 110 pounds more than what is usually permitted in the Light Sport Aircraft category.

According to a statement, the company's philosophy is "to design a vehicle for pilots that brings additional ground capability to an airplane instead of attempting to make a car fly." See the Transition in action:

Terrafugia says the Transition will fly at a cruising speed of 105 miles per hour, and a maximum speed of 115 miles per hour. With a range of 490 miles on a full 23-gallon tank, it will burn 5 gallons per hour. On the road, it will get 35 miles per gallon.

The company also claims the unit is cheaper to maintain than an airplane. This is because it uses automotive gasoline, nearly eliminates ground transportation costs, and allows the owner to park it in his or her garage rather than renting space in a hangar.

Transition drivers/pilots need to have a valid driver's license as well as a Sport Pilot license, which requires 20 hours of flight time.

So far, according to Terrafugia, around 100 units have been reserved. But don't expect to see the Transition rolling down your block next week. Last month, Terrafugia CEO/CTO Carl Dietrich said he expected the first units to be available in late 2012.

Photos: Terrafugia

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