There’s a flying car coming to the New York International Auto Show this week. The Terrafugia Transition is a two-seat airplane with foldable wings, four wheels and turn signals. Over the past few years the Massachusetts company has called its creation a “roadable aircraft” and lately, a “street legal airplane.” But ahead of the Transition’s first appearance at an auto show, it’s perhaps more appropriate to simply call it what it is: a flying car.
Terrafugia and its Transition have been around for several years, but until now the company has largely stuck to the aviation community. But Terrafugia co-founder and CEO Carl Dietrich says that looking at the people who have placed orders for the $279,000 vehicle, they thought it would be worth looking outside the aviation world.
“We’ve noticed in our order backlog there are actually a fair number of people who are not currently pilots who are putting deposits down to order a Transition.”
So the company is coming to New York to gauge interest in a flying car from the non-pilot sector of the public, hoping the attraction of a flying car can create a few pilots and most importantly, customers.
Development of the Transition is progressing and last month Terrafugia completed the first flight of the production prototype. Dietrich expects flight testing to continue through 2012 and deliveries to begin next year.
The dream of a flying car has been around for a long, long time. And in recent years we’ve seen a dune-buggy-turned-car that flies like a powered parachute aimed at accessing remote parts of the developing world, and even aerospace guru Burt Rutan explored the concept in his final days at Scaled Composites.
Just today a Dutch company announced the successful first flights of the PAL-V, a single-seat three-wheeler that’s also a gyrocopter. But as is the case with many inventions that try to combine two already matured products, one plus one does not usually equal two.
The math doesn’t quite work out on the Transition either, though it’s arguably the most serious attempt at producing anything close to a practical flying car. It’s a decent airplane and as a car it can get you from A to B. The biggest challenge is finding the niche that can be served by the Transition which is neither a great airplane nor a great car. Terrafugia’s Dietrich says that marketplace might be people who fall in between the long driving commute or short airplane flight.
“If you’re flying 1,000 nautical miles, you’re probably going to want a higher performance aircraft” he says. “But if you’re flying 100, 200 or 300 miles, this might be ideal.”
With a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour, the Transition is faster than a car, especially considering it can often travel in a straight lines rarely available on the road. But it’s slower than many other Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), many of which fly at speeds closer to 135 mph. And comparing it to other new LSAs, the Transition is at least $100,000 more than most models.
But what Terrafugia believes is the value in the Transition is the convenience of always having the option of driving if the weather or some other issue prevents a safe flight. It’s true that one of the biggest challenges general aviation pilots face is being grounded because of bad weather. Many small aircraft can fly in inclement weather, but it requires more training and often more equipment to do so safely. So Terrafugia is touting the fact that its relatively simple light sport aircraft won’t force you to wait, or have to rent a car, just to finish a trip. Just fold up the wings and continue your journey on the ground.
Of course then you’ll be driving a rather delicate $279,000 car down the road. Little has been said about the cost of somebody backing into your folded wing. Something as simple as a minor fender-bender may be a bit more expensive than simply replacing a bumper.
Despite any potential drawbacks, Terrafugia has found a customer base that believes the flying car makes sense. Dietrich says about two-thirds of their existing customers are looking at the Transition as a practical form of transportation to suit their specific needs. Examples include a surveyor who could travel quickly to jobs around the state and a real estate developer who likes the idea of being able to scout new sites from above and give aerial tours to customers. The other third simply see the Transition as a fun vehicle and like the idea of owning a flying car.
For the rest of the population there are plenty of ground-bound vehicles to look at this week in New York and lots of plenty of airplanes to see at shows like Airventure in Oshkosh. So the challenge will be to decide whether or not the $279,000 Transition is a better option than a $100,000 Porsche Carrera plus a $160,000 Flight Design CTLS (leaving some extra cash for those car rentals).
Via Wired Autopia: http://www.wired.com/autopia/