The start-up Terrafugia first popped up on our radar screens in early 2006 with a one-fifth scale model, $30,000 in prize money, and an urge to build a car that could fly. Or is that an airplane you can take on the highway?
Some signs point strongly to the latter. Terrafugia describes its Transition vehicle as a "roadable aircraft" and is pitching it in part as giving private pilots an easy travel alternative when bad weather makes flying a bad idea, or simply to avoid having to take a separate car to the airport. Also, in the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, the vehicle falls into the light sport aircraft category.On March 5, Terrafugia got to show that--whatever the eventual business prospects--the Transition can indeed fly. The maiden voyage (the duration wasn't specified) took place at the Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, with a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel in the pilot's seat. The flight followed six months of static, road, and taxi testing.
As a car, the two-seat Transition is designed to be easy on garages and oncoming traffic--its wings fold up quite snugly. In folded mode, the approximately 19-foot-long vehicle is 80 inches wide, and 6 feet, 9 inches high. As an airplane, it stands a few inches shorter and has a wingspan of 27 feet, 6 inches.
The vehicle runs off unleaded fuel from your run-of-the-mill gas station for both terrestrial and aerial travel, cruising at highway speeds on land and better than 115 miles per hour in the air.
But Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia (Latin for "escape from land") still has a long road ahead of it. The vehicle that flew earlier this month is still just a proof of concept, and a production prototype has yet to be built, tested, and certified. The company says it expects to make the first customer delivery of a Transition in 2011.