Navigating the skies may be too much to ask

Terrafugia Transition EAA Airventure 2008 Oshkosh (See below)

Tim White

In the race to build the latest and greatest of techno-geek toys, a Boston-based firm, Terrafugia, has announced that it aspires to deliver its first round of roadworthy personal aircraft sometime next year. The concept of this Jetson-mobile, dubbed the Transition, is that after a day of flying about with a sidekick of choice, you land at your friendly municipal airstrip, fold up the wings and drive it home. It even runs on automotive grade fuel. Safety features include the typical automobile accoutrements as well as an optional full-vehicle parachute, in the unfortunate event that it does not make it back to terra firma under its own devices. All yours for a cool $200,000.

Since tailfins first appeared on the ‘48 Cadillac, gearheads and science-fiction junkies alike have dreamed of taking personal transport into the skies. Even as recent as the 1980s, we had visions of penthouses with attached garages by the 21st century. Nevertheless, as the age of aerial commuting rapidly approaches, there comes with it the concern of the public adapting to this new technology.

Case in point, I invite you to take a ride down Westminster Blvd. on a Saturday afternoon and observe the difficulties the general public has negotiating travel without considerations for pitch, yawl and altitude. I was up there a month or so ago and while checking out the girl in the car next to me, another driver, who appeared to be applying mascara, emerged from the turn lane and came to a dead stop in my lane with her car perpendicular to traffic. It was awful. I dropped my telephone into the Animal fries I was eating and slammed on the brakes, which culminated with my laptop to hitting, the DVD screen, breaking both and resulting of the loss of $500 in the online poker game I was playing. There’s no way we can handle flight.
Furthermore, we also seem to have an issue keeping our vehicles in reasonable running order. I recall, with disdain, the time a muffler fell off a shoddy old Ford pick-up and lodged itself into the sub frame of my week-old Volkswagen.

While a few states require an annual auto safety check, (at least in New York) anyone with $100 and the right connections can acquire an inspection sticker under the table… not that I would know this. Equipment failure on a terrestrial level typically is not that big of a deal, aside from the damage to one’s checkbook. However, when a breakdown occurs in aviation, the ensuing plunge routinely ends in disaster.

Alas, the arrogant rantings of semi-alcoholic journalism students have roughly the same impact on society that a Bic lighter has on a smelting pot so it’s likely that we will see commuters taking to the sky within most of our lifetimes. While Terrafugia’s wondercraft is very much out of reach for the average working slob, keep in mind that the automobile took less than 50 years to evolve from a pipe dream to a middle-class mainstay.

I question whether it’s wise to entrust the public at large with the task of flight. I also can’t wait to hear what Greenpeace has to say on the notion of our precious skies being clogged with winged beer cans. Personally, I’m going to hold off on buying one until they start fitting them with decent cup holders.

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Photo credit: Used under the Creative Commons license.

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