Flying car to take off in 2009

Posted by Rick C. Hodgin

Woburn (MA) - A company called Terrafugia is currently developing a plane that transitions into a car.  For a mere $148,000 you too can own a Transition.  When completed in late 2009, it will have an average cruising speed of 115 mph, gets over 25 mpg in the air.  It's classified as a Light Sport Utility vehicle and weighs only 1320 lbs.  It will be powered by a 100 hp, 4-stroke Rotax 912 ULS.  This engine is FAA certified to run on both 91+ octane autogas as well as 100LL.  The same engine is used to power the rear push-prop and front wheels, using a clutch-based transmission for power selection.  The Rotax engine is certified to allow a 5% ethanol mixture.

Cargo and dimensions
The vehicle will have 550 lbs of usable cargo weight in a 20 cubic foot space, which can be divided up among people, bags or fuel.  It has a 20 gallon fuel tank which consumes about 120 lbs of fuel.  Its maximum range is 460 miles (400 nm) when operating at 75% power, which is required to sustain 115mph cruising speed.  When in folded position, the vehicle measures just 6.75 feet high, by 7.5 feet wide, by 18.75 feet long.  No data on the wingspan was given, however it could not exceed approximately 35 feet due to the stated dimensions and mechanical operation of the wing through a single central hinge.  The internal cabin space is 50 inches wide.

Folding wing
The key feature of Transition is its folding wing.  With the push of a button, and when the vehicle is turned off and parked, the wing can extend out for air flight, or retract into large, wide vertical posts near the car for normal driving and garage storage.  Concerns over the hinge mechanism may be the biggest remaining hurdle for early adopters, however.  Terrafugia has a patent-pending for a system they've developed which meets all requirements of air-use.  They also point out that military aircraft currently use various folding wing designs.

Transition's wing loading is approximately 8.8 lbs per square foot, which is comparable to light sport or general purpose aviation aircraft.  They currently have a working prototype wing design, however it is machine mounted and is not part of the actual aircraft.  All of the pictures and images seen are either from a 1/5th scale prototype that was built and flown, or from computer generated animation.

Transition is comprised of composite aluminum and "modern materials" which address safety and weight concerns.  The company's 1/5th scale RC version was successfully flown earlier this year at Shirley, MA.  They also used a 1/5th scale model for wind tunnel testing at MIT's Wright Brother's Wind Tunnel facility.  The scale model continues to fly at air shows, including the recent Oshkosh 2007.

Pilot's license required
In order to operate the vehicle, the pilot (not the driver) will have to be FAA certified and hold a pilot's license.  Currently only a visual flight rating (VFR) ability is planned, as the on-board instruments will not be sufficient for a full Instrument Rating.

A minimum runway of 1,700 feet is required to take off over a 50 foot obstacle.  The vehicle can land in a few hundred feet due to the car-like four-wheel braking system.  The intended audience is the regular commuter who travels in excess of 100 miles at a stretch.  The idea is to drive to the nearby airport, take off, land at the destination city, and then drive to the final destination for a business meeting, luncheon, vacation getaway, or other purpose.

Vehicle tags will be mounted in back and front (where required, not all states required front tags).  Terrafugia is currently working with insurance underwriters to develop a policy which encompasses its multi-modal method of operation.  Normal operations when in automobile mode will be comparable to driving today, with the exception of the additional gauges and foot pedals.

Planned completion and summary
The vehicle is scheduled to be completed in late 2008.  It will be delivered to early buyers in late 2009.  Anyone desiring a Transition can go to the website and order one right now.  The company was founded in 2006, however work began on the Transition in 2004.  The name Terrafugia is Latin, and means "Escape from the Earth".  The founders are graduates from MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  Terrafugia will be demonstrated again at the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida January 17-20, 2008.  Read more at Terrafugia.