I'm late for work, must fly

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IT MAY look as if Daniel Craig is about to emerge from its cockpit and dust down his tuxedo, but this outlandish vehicle is not a prop from the new James Bond film.

Instead, its manufacturers hope to realise a technological fantasy that for decades has captivated and frustrated designers in equal measure – a commercially available flying car.

Should the Transition go where no automobile has gone before and successfully soar through the skies, it will eliminate that curse of modern-day commuting, the traffic jam.

At the push of a button, the vehicle's body sprouts 10ft-wide wings, and, 15 seconds later, the 100-horsepower engine shifts power from the wheels to a rear-mounted propeller, rendering it capable of flight.

The Transition's makers also claim it will tackle problems associated with air travel. Bad weather? Simply land and continue your journey by more conventional means.

That, at least, is the theory. Before it can take flight, the enterprising hybrid must fulfil any number of strict safety measures and comply with various regulations.

Even if it does, however, motoring experts do not expect the hybrid to find a market, at least not in Britain.

But after a long line of noble failures, it offers the best chance yet of turning cartoon character George Jetson's favoured mode of transport into reality.

After years of design work, the Transition, developed by the United States engineering firm Terrafugia, is now in its final testing stages, and it is hoped a prototype will take to the air before the year is out.

The company, mindful of its intended market, is not referring to its creation as a "flying car", preferring the sobriquet "roadable aircraft".

Terrafugia, which describes the hybrid as "a more useful airplane", hopes to sell the two-seater light aircraft to pilots who want the convenience of being able to reach their final destination without having to park their aircraft and rent a car.

Its sleek white carbon-composite body is light enough to fly yet sufficiently resilient to meet stringent road-crash test standards. A front bumper doubles as an aerofoil, while a rear stabiliser features tail lights and the all-important licence plate. It is hoped it will reach speeds of 115mph in the air, and about 70mph to 80mph on the ground.

Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia's chief executive, is the man behind the Transition. The aeronautics graduate from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology began toying with the idea four years ago and set himself one key rule – the craft must be able to fit inside an average garage. After going through about 50 designs, he settled on the current incarnation and successfully tested a scale model in a wind tunnel.

"People hear that term (flying car] and immediately it's associated with The Jetsons, Back to the Future and Blade Runner," said Mr Dietrich, 31. "This is an aircraft you can also drive – a more useful airplane."

However, Jim Holder, a motoring writer and deputy editor of the What Car? website, said: "I would imagine the design has got no chance at all of success. It hasn't got to the stage where people would view a flying car as necessary or practical. People would buy either a car or a plane."

The Transition, which it is hoped will be recognised by the US Federal Aviation Administration as a "light-sport aircraft", will sell for between 90,000 and 125,000. Already Massachusetts-based Terrafugia has dozens of orders on its books. The company has raised about 1 million to date, but in order to reach basic production levels of about 20 vehicles a year, it will require four times that amount.

The prototype's maiden flight is tentatively scheduled for next month, but "for safety and security reasons", no-one outside the company will be invited to witness it.

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