DALE McFEATTERS: Getting flying car off the ground
May 11, 2013 10:29 AM

Like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football, I find certain possibilities irresistible, and one of them is the flying car, a fantasy in which I am far from alone.

I was probably introduced to the flying car by a well-thumbed copy of Mechanics Illustrated or Popular Mechanics lying on the torn seat beside me in one of Pittsburgh’s black-market barbershops back in the day when the dead hand of regulation made kids’ haircuts prohibitively expensive.

Those barbers may have operated at the edge of the law, but they were careful to keep the more educational and, to our overheated young minds, vastly more entertaining reading matter out of sight and out of reach. These magazines would be offered only to adult regulars, who undoubtedly appreciated reading material free of Jujube candy stains.

The cover illustration was invariably a family, getting airborne from their driveway in a flying car. Father, sporting a hat and a big smile, was at the controls. Mother, also wearing a hat, was next to him. The children, a brother and sister, were in the backseat.

The whole crew looked like the characters out of the Dick and Jane readers of the day, although Baby Sally, Spot the dog and Puff the cat apparently didn’t make the family travel squad.

The magazine’s cover artists and, I suspect, the people who designed these flying cars didn’t have much to work with, so the machines were highly speculative and even to our untrained eyes seemed to combine the worst features of both machines.

In spite of myself, I still fantasize about flying out of a traffic jam and taxiing up to my front door where a beaming Mother is waiting in a pinafore, holding a tray with a large bourbon. (If this were anywhere close to accurate, the next line would be, “Suddenly, shots rang out.”) All of this came to mind when I was roaming in the unaccustomed precincts of the Money section in Tuesday’s USA Today and there it was, the headline, “Flying Car Design Hits New Heights.” The headline was somewhat belied by an “artist’s rendering” of the proposed flying car hovering just off the ground.

The Terrafugia TF-X, the brainchild of a Massachusetts aerospace company, would, as the hackneyed expression goes, “drive like a car and fly like a plane.” The Terrafugia would use two large propellers mounted on engines that would swivel vertically for takeoff and then horizontally for level flight. This is the same technology as the Marine’s V-22 Osprey that, if memory serves, took the lives of a lot of Marines before the service got it right.

The company already makes a conventional flying car, if there is such a thing, but the price tag for the car is $279,000 and delivery is still two years off. As for the Terrafugia, the company says — without giving a specific price — it has orders for 100 of them, but the carmaker is still perfecting its vertical-lift flying vehicle.

The idea is less crazy than most, and if you flew it over Washington, D.C., where I live, F-16s from Andrews Air Force Base would blast you, Mother and the kids out of the sky in seconds.

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