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McFarland: Flying cars are coming

Published June 6, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Matt McFarland

The Washington Post

Outside Boston, a team boasting nine MIT degrees wants to end your terrible commute. There's no sitting in traffic when you can hit a button, take off vertically and fly straight to your destination.

Ahh yes, the dream of the Jetsons realized.

Eager investors have poured $10 million into Terrafugia, which thinks it will improve human freedom thanks to flying cars. The team's intentions appear very good. They want to do something grand, as we are reminded:

The last generation went to the moon. Their parents started Hoover Dam before they knew it was even possible to finish it. Why don't we do anything hard these days?

There are actually quite a few people trying to get to Mars right now, and some attempting to cure cancer. Others are even trying to cure diseases while in space. But I digress.

Flying cars — which might generate drone-like excitement from the masses — appear a misguided solution to humanity's hard problems of today. If flying cars pass regulatory hurdles, sell at an affordable price and end the era of congested roads, we will have made long commutes tolerable. Long commutes are indeed a pain, but climate change is worse. Encouraging more commuters to burn fuel in their flying cars isn't going to help. If long commutes lose their drawbacks, we'll encourage more sprawl. Our best hope against climate change is denser living, public transportation and walkable or bikeable commutes.

Let's check out the flying cars Terrafugia is building, shall we? Here's the Transition, rumbling down a street with an awkwardness we haven't seen since the stair car in "Arrested Development."

The wings fold up for driving, or if you want to store the Transition in a garage. The expected base price for it is $279,000, and it'll reportedly be available in mid-2016. It cruises at 100 mph while aloft and burns five gallons per hour while cruising. For flying car enthusiasts, one drawback is you need a runway to take off.

The really exciting and appealing offering from Terrafugia is the TF-X, which will have a top speed of 200 mph. It will take off like a helicopter, meaning you won't need a runway in your backyard.

It's expected to take eight to 12 years to develop. With all that time, perhaps we will all be able to realize that buying a flying car is the last thing we need.