If things go according to plans for the American firm Terrafugia Inc, it might be rolling out the first flying car, or rather ‘a plane that can also be driven around like a car’ as the company prefers to call it, by the end of this year. After a period of extensive testing consisting of 28 trials, the Boston based company is in the process of beginning production of its Transition Roadable Light Sport Aircraft®. The vehicle, driven on the road with its wings folded in like a car, can go from being a car to a plane in just 30 seconds. On the road it achieves a maximum speed of 105km/hr while in the air, it can fly at 185km/hr. The Transition can run on regular gasoline and can be parked in a normal size garage. The principal motivation for developing the Transition is to help pilots to achieve seamless travel between the air and road at the beginning and end of their flights as they have to travel by road before and after their flight. Often, they face uncertain weather, long traffic jams, rising ground transportation costs and other problems on the road. Thus, the Transition offers an ideal solution for personal air travel because of its ability to serve both as a plane and a car on the road. Asked about future plans for the aircraft Richard Gersh, Vice-President, Business Development, Terrafugia Inc. said, “The company’s principal market is the US though it would also be interested in selling internationally.” According to him, the correct usage of the aircraft would be as a personal commuter aircraft.
The Transition® is 6 feet 6 inches tall, 19 feet 9 inches long with a cockpit width of 48 inches at the shoulder and has a wingspan of 26 feet 6 inches. The aircraft is powered by a single 100 hp Rotax 912ULS engine which drives a four-bladed propeller. It has a touch-screen cockpit user interface and continuous variable automatic transmission. It is a two passenger aircraft with one pilot and one passenger, and can carry 62kg of fuel. The Transition has an empty weight of 440kg and can carry a maximum payload of 210kg. The aircraft has a unique and convenient feature which facilitates automated electromechanical folding of its wings from within the cockpit while travelling on the road. It has a rear wheel drive and automobile style entry and exit. It does not require a trailer and or hangar. The cargo area of the plane can hold golf clubs. The aircraft is claimed to be very safe with a full parachute available for use. It has modern avionics and automotive crash safety features.
The Transition had initially faced difficulties in meeting the US federal road safety standards while adhering to the maximum take-off weight limit of 1,320 pounds for aircraft, set by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). Therefore, on request from Terrafugia, the FAA relaxed the limit for the Transition, allowing a weight of 1,430 pounds. The weight relaxation means the aircraft is now classified as a Light Sport Aircraft instead of a regular light aircraft which makes it easier for pilots to train on it – a sport pilot’s licence is much easier to get than that of a regular private pilot. It also enables the aircraft to have more safety features than other light planes. With the additional 110 pounds, Terrafugia will install airbags, a crumple zone and a safety cage, things mandatory for ground vehicles under US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. An additional safety feature is the option of driving back from one’s destination, if flying conditions are hazardous.