Pie in the sky?

Jetsons-style commuters could be on their way after test flights of two aeromobiles.

Hovering to work George Jetson-style could become a reality for the well-heeled within a year.

In the space of a week, two "flying cars" have successfully completed test flights at different ends of the globe.

The first is the US-made Terrafugia Transition, a street-legal four-wheeler with folding wings and a rear-facing propeller. The car-plane has a combined range of nearly 800 kilometres, and it recently completed an eight-minute test flight.

The Transition measures a chunky 2.3 metres wide, 6.0m long and 2.0m tall - bigger than a Toyota LandCruiser SUV - but its clever retractable wings (which span 8m when expanded) mean it can fit in the average single car garage. It's extremely light, with a gross take-off weight of 650kg.

The second is the PAL-V One (Personal Air and Land Vehicle), a gyrocopter style three-wheeler designed and developed in the Netherlands that is claimed to have the agility of a motorcycle with the comfort of a conventional car. It has a roof-mounted rotor system and, similar to an ultra-light aircraft, it has a "very short take off and landing capability" that it says makes it "possible to land practically anywhere".

The PAL-V One can fly as far as 500 kilometres at an altitude of up to 1200 metres. When it lands, it tucks away its rotor-blades and turns into a road-legal three-wheeler runabout that actively tilts through corners for better driver involvement.

It's considerably more compact than the Terrafugia, measuring about the same size as a Kia Rio or Toyota Yaris (4m long, 1.6m wide and 1.6m tall). It is, however, heavier at 680kg.

To fly both cars you need to have obtained your pilot's licence, and each company suggests you'll need to spend between 20 and 40 hours of flight time behind the wheel.

However, taking off to work could be a bit of a problem. The Terrafugia requires at least 762 metres of open road to take off (though it is recommended you use an airport runway), while the PAL-V is slightly more city-friendly, requiring 165 metres of roadway to take off, and just 30 metres to land.

Both companies are touting their wares as revolutionary - PAL-V claims its model "will be a revolution in door-to-door transportation similar to the transition from horse-and-buggy to the auto¬mobile"; while Terrafugia founder Carl Dietrich says his team has "demonstrated an ability to accomplish what had been called an impossible dream".

Already, 100 examples of the Terrafugia have been ordered. However, both flying cars are expected to be pricey - the Terrafugia has pre-sale price of US $270,000 ($262,000), while the PAL-V is expected to cost between €250,000 and €300,000 ($321,000-$385,000) - so you could be better off buying a brand new Robinson helicopter (which sell from about $250,000) and a pair of Holden Barinas at $12490 a piece - one for either end of your flight.

One couple has already been in touch with local flying associations with a view to flying and driving the Terrafugia around Australia in one of the car/planes.

And the stumbling block is likely to be the driving component rather than the flying element, according to experts.

The secretary of the Australian Sports Rotorcraft Association, Hunter Jones, said neither vehicle could be registered as a recreational aircraft, as they both seat more than one person and tip the scales at more than 600kg. Had they come in below that limit, they could have been flown - although not driven - by anyone over the age of 15.

But Jones said the vehicles could possibly be registered as General Aviation Experimental aircraft and flown by anyone with a pilot's licence.

They would also have to register the vehicle for road use, which may be more difficult, he said.

"From a motor vehicle perspective they'd have to comply with ADRs (Australian Design Rules)," he said.

Australian Design Rules are a major headache for would-be car importers, with the cost of compliance often making importation unviable. But the Low Volume Scheme allows for a simplified certification process for cars that are sold in volumes less than 100 units a year.

"It's an interesting concept, although it's not particularly new," he said.

Men have been trying to build flying cars almost as long as they've been building road cars.

Glenn Curtiss is credited as the father of the flying car. In 1917, he unveiled the Autoplane, which had three wings spanning 12 metres. The car's motor drove a propeller at the rear of the car. The experimental machine managed to lift off the ground for a few short hops, but never really flew.

In 1946, the Airphibian became the first car-plane to be officially certified by US aviation authorities. It could fly at about 200km/h and drive at about 80km/h.

In 1970, Ford considered investing in the Aerocar, which was an updated version of the Airphibian concept.

With Richard Blackburn