"The Jetsons" predicted that we'd have flying cars by at least 2062, and "Back to the Future" promised them by 2015. It turns out that reality may, for once, outpace fiction.

A small, privately held company named Terrafugia recently gained FAA approval for its roadable aircraft (i.e., flying car), and new improvements to the vehicle's design will make it available to customers in about a year, according to MSNBC.

Dubbed The Transition, Terrafugia's flying car takes the notion of driving a hybrid to a whole new level. The latest model features a car-like look, with traditional headlights and even a license plate holder. Other new fixtures include an improved wing that folds up with the touch of a switch (like a convertible), rear-wheel drive with a continuously variable transmission, independent suspension, and even a futuristic touchscreen interface in the cockpit.

Aside from the innovative engineering specs, the Transition performs fairly well in fuel economy. It gets about 35 miles per gallon on the road and about 490 miles per full tank in the air.

When grounded, the vehicle's wings fold up to achieve legal street-ready dimensions. Users would be able to drive the vehicle from their garage to a nearby airport, allowing independent, convenient travel. At the very least, it would help owners bypass those annoying airport wait times.

Purchasing one of the flying cars won't be cheap. The estimated price for a first generation Transition is about $194,000. Though that's out of reach for the average consumer, it's at least an important first step toward bringing a flying car closer to reality.

Currently, the release date is late 2011, and the company is accepting refundable $10,000 deposits to reserve a flying car.

And in case you were wondering, Terrafugia has no plans to follow up its flying car design with a line of hoverboards, though hardcore "Back to the Future" fans undoubtedly will remain hopeful.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Flying car to become a reality in 2011
Design updates bring the first FAA-approved flying car closer to reality.