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Images: Terrafugia's flying car

Forget the airborne jalopy in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." This start-up, with a strong dose of MIT smarts, means business.
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1 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Terrafugia's flying car - front view

It's just a scale model now, but the Transition "personal air vehicle" could be scooting through the air in just a few years. That's the goal of start-up Terrafugia, which is aiming to produce a fully operational prototype by 2008 and at least a few production models by the end of the decade.

Terrafugia has a healthy helping of MIT cachet--and cash. It's a project of MIT grad student Carl Dietrich and colleagues at the school's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and is starting out with $30,000 from the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

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2 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Flying car - top view

What kind of gas mileage should we expect from a flying car? The Transition should get 30 miles a gallon in the air, Terrafugia says--even as it hit speeds of 120 miles per hour. Its payload is expected to be about 430 pounds, which should be enough for two adults and a couple of overnight bags.

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3 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Flying car - retractable wings

For Transition owners with garages or tight urban parking spots, the car will come with retractable wings. With the wings folded up, the vehicle will have the footprint, so to speak, of a large SUV, the company says. Yes, it will come with air bags.

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4 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Flying car - wings fully retracted

It's not the first question in Terrafugia's FAQ, but it's an important one: How can a car fly? The answer: "In plane mode, the Transition has all of the necessary lift, propulsion, guidance, and control systems for a safe, light sport aircraft. It might be easier to think of the Transition as a light sport airplane that has the additional funcationality of being able to drive."

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