WATCH: Terrafugia Transition, the First Airplane/Automobile Hybrid, Will Launch in 2019

What a time to be alive.

Many may recall the blockbuster 1989 sequel to Back to the Future that took place in a speculative 2015. Its depiction of the future was surprisingly accurate about several things: a national baseball team based out of Florida, flat screen televisions, voice-activated appliances, and flying drones. However, the most glaring prediction that the filmmakers got wrong was the invention and implementation of flying cars. But maybe only by a few years. A company based out of Massachusetts is set to begin selling its vision of the world’s first flying car next year.

The American public has been enamored with the notion of personal air transportation going back well over a century. In 1841, a patent was issued for the Henson-Stringfellow aerial steam carriage, though the gentlemen that conceived this version of a flying car failed to produce a functional model. Later, in 1917, Glenn Curtiss manufactured an autoplane constructed from aluminum that was complete with plastic windows and internal heating. This flying car creation was shown at the Pan-American Aeronautical Exposition in New York, but the vehicle never flew and development was halted by World War I.

In 1923, a flying vehicle called the Pitcairn PCA-2 landed in front of the White House during President Hoover’s administration. This iteration has been classified as an “autogyro,” which appeared like a normal airplane, but with a propeller on top like a helicopter. Intriguingly, the PCA-2 was actually marketed and sold to certain individuals. A device resembling the B-2 stealth bomber was briefly manufactured in 1937 called the Waterman Aerobile. A few years after World War II, a flying machine called the ConVairCar Model 118 that looked like a regular car of its time topped with a single propeller airplane was constructed and flown, though it crash-landed during its first flight dooming its future. Ford proposed a futuristic looking Levacar in 1959, though none were ever built.

The first true road-to-sky flying car called the Aero-Car was constructed in 1966 and achieved speeds of 60 miles per hour on the ground and 110 miles per hour in the air. This historical entry in the race to make flying cars a reality inspired Disney to create a character modeled on the design in the 2013 movie Planes. Subsequent entries include, but are not limited to: the 1973 AVE Mizar, the 1990 Sky Commuter, and the 2003 M400 Sky-Car.

All this may culminate in the imminent commencement of sales for the latest personal flying vehicle produced by a company called Terrafugia, whose earliest prototype first took to the air in 2009.

The Terrafugia Transition is the first of its kind airplane/automobile hybrid that transforms from an automobile to an airplane in less than one minute. The vehicle has four wheels, wings that alternate from being folded around the passenger section to extending outward from it, and a rear propeller described as a “pusher.” The design and production of this version of a flying car have been in development since the founding of Terrafugia in 2006.

Unfortunately, there are limitations to the general public accessing the Transition. The first is its rather hefty price tag of approximately $400,000 per vehicle. Secondly, the Transition is not going to be able to rescue you from a rush hour traffic jam. Like its airplane cousins, the Transition will require a runway to be able to take flight. Finally, the only people that will be allowed to operate a Transition in the air will be licensed pilots.

The second obstacle will be eventually surmounted as Terrafugia is in the planning stages for a vehicle that will have vertical liftoff capability. However, this newer model air/car hybrid called the “TF2” is not expected to be available for purchase until 2023.

Although there is certainly excitement for the debut of the world’s first functional flying car, its time may already have passed. News stories have already circulated regarding autonomous flying drones capable of transporting at least one human passenger. Other reports have described so-called “air taxis” that unlike the Terrafugia Transition do not require a runway and lift off and land vertically. These alternative approaches to flying passenger vehicles are fast on their way to being brought to market by notable aerospace manufacturers including Airbus and Volocopter.

Indeed, aerospace engineering professor Richard Anderson notes that “the world changed while they were working on that vehicle,” referring to the Terrafugia Transition.

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