Flying car over water with side-opening door

From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Blade Runner, Star Wars to Back to the Future, the flying car has captured the public's imagination in fiction and on the big screen.

Even in the real world, the likes of Henry Ford predicted as long ago as 1940 that the flying car was on its way. Yet for all the interest over the past half a century, only now are we approaching the point where drivers, or rather pilots, will be able to buy a flying car.

The Terrafugia Transition is expected to be ready for customers by the end of 2016. You need to be a qualified pilot to fly it. And then there’s the small matter of the £179,000 price tag (and the car insurance won’t be cheap either!). But the Transition has pulled clear of many of the obstacles that have caused previous projects to fail.

Here, we look at five fantastic flying cars.

Airphibian aeroplane with side-opening door


The first to gain the approval of America’s Federal Aviation Administration of its day was the Airphibian.

Rather than modifying a car to fly, in 1946 Robert Edison Fulton Jr adapted a plane to be road legal. It could fly at 120mph.

Then it was simply a case of removing the wings, tail and propeller and it could cruise at 50mph on the road. The project ran out of money before it could go into production. In an attempt to fund the Airphibian, the team behind it did invent the self-making bed.

Guess what? That was a flop too.

ConvAirCar car plane with side-opening door


Another flying car that first flew in 1946 was the ConvAirCar.

Taking the reverse approach to the Airphibian, this was a two-seater car that had wings and a tail added to it. It featured two engines: one small 25hp engine for flying, a second 190hp engine for use on the road. There were ambitious plans to make 160,000 for driver-pilots to rent at airports. However, on its third flight, the test pilot mistook the car engine’s full fuel tank for the plane engine’s empty one, ran out of fuel mid-air, and crashed. It brought the project to an abrupt halt.

Aerocar car plane with side-opening door


The second road-legal car to get official approval to fly was the 1956 Aerocar.

Once again this was car-based with a basic car body covered with a detachable glass fibre frame that contained the wings and tail. The front engine was connected to a propeller at the back via a 3m shaft. It could cruise in the air at 120mph and Ford was even rumoured to be interested in building the Aerocar to sell. But the 1970s fuel crisis put an end to its aspirations.

The project was briefly resurrected in 2000 when a company using the Aerocar name proposed a flying Lotus Elise. That failed to get off the drawing board.

Terrafugia car plane with side-opening door

Terrafugia Transition

Like most other flying cars that have got off the ground in a physical sense, the Terrafugia is an American design. Reassuringly it’s the brainchild of students from the department of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so if they don't know what they’re doing when it comes to defying gravity, who does?

The Transition is a road-legal car with folding wings. According to the company, converting to flight mode is the equivalent in time and convenience of dropping the roof on a convertible. And in case things really do go wrong in the air, there’s a full vehicle parachute waiting to step in.

PAL-V One car plane with side-opening door


The PAL-V One is unusual in this company for two reasons: it flies like a helicopter not an aeroplane; and it has been designed and built by a Dutch company.

Like a three-wheeled motorbike, the PAL-V One uses tilting technology to enable it to corner at speed without falling over. The rotor blades fold in half and fix to the roof for road use while the moveable tail retracts.

PAL-V has proved that it flies, and now the company has to find drivers prepared to buy it.