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At Oshkosh, Terrafugia's flying car finally soars for the public

At the EAA AirVentures air show, Terrafugia's Transition flying car took to the air and put on quite a show. And then drove away. CNET Road Trip 2013 was there and can vouch for it.

Terrafugia flying car
It's lonely business these days being a flying car, or as Terrafugia would say, rather less poetically, a roadable aircraft. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

OSHKOSH, Wis. -- It's not from a James Bond movie, it's not the Jetsons, and this isn't Disneyland. That really was a flying car soaring overhead as thousands looked on Wednesday evening.

Known as the Transition, it is Boston-based Terrafugia's real-life flying car. An airplane that can take off just minutes after being street legal, the Transition is a $279,000 experiment in bringing America's roads and skies together through a single machine.

The Transition was one of the headliners for the Wednesday evening performances at the giant EAA AirVenture air show here, where it made its first public performances. It didn't disappoint. And as part of Road Trip 2013, I was lucky enough to see it in action.

Though it's not clear exactly who would want to buy this early version of what would formerly have been a sci-fi fantasy -- or at least little more than a concept -- there's no doubt that the crowd of aviation enthusiasts here were eager to see if the Transition could actually fly. And though it didn't pull off the kind of intense air maneuvers that many of the other planes taking part in the show thrilled the audience with, it definitely delivered on its promise.

Once it landed, it folded up its wings, and drove away.

As Terrafugia touts the drivable aircraft on its Web site: "The Transition is the transportation of the future today. A street-legal airplane that converts between flying and driving modes in under a minute, the Transition brings a new level of freedom, flexibility, and fun to personal aviation.

"It gives the pilot the option to land and drive in bad weather, provides integrated ground transportation on both ends of the flight, and fits in a standard single car garage at home. The Transition can fly in and out of over 5,000 public airports in the U.S. and is legal to drive on public roads and highways.

"It is the only light aircraft designed to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and it is also equipped with a full-vehicle parachute for additional safety."

Of course, this is not a car that anyone would want to drive very fast, and indeed, Terrafugia expects that it will be flown 85 percent of the time, and driven just 15 percent of the time.

And though not a particularly sleek car, nor a prime example of what people would normally consider a sexy plane, Terrafugia's flying car is nonetheless worth taking serious note of. We may not be heading into a world with cars soaring overhead everywhere we look any time soon, but it's exciting to know that sci-fi is becoming real before our eyes.