Terrafugia Transition

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I was reminded of the flying car from Terrafugia by the article in
this month's AOPA Pilot. (The car was also shown on the cover of the
Hammacher Schlemmer catalog!)

I was wondering what people thought about the prospects for this go-
round at a flying car. All previous attempts (starting from the
earliest aviation pioneers) have been commercial (and usually
practical) failures.

To my mind, putting togeher two items that don't really fit usually
leads to a mediocre version of both. People said the same thing
about combining cell phones and cameras, but now the camera is
pretty good and the convenience of carrying just one item outweighs
the fact that the camera is not quite as good as a standalone model.

Do you think the Transition will be successful? The development team
is from MIT and I thought Phil might know the people involved. Has
anybody seen the demo unit?


-- Todd Ramming, November 29, 2010


I've followed the company since its inception and given the founders some advice (which they ignored!). Keep in mind that "success" in light sport aviation would be selling 50 to 100 airplanes per year. In other words, Terrafugia does not need to build a more practical transportation solution than a Hyundai Sonata; they simply need to build a fun toy for a few hundred quasi-rich folks.

I believe that Terrafugia has successfully romanced the government bureaucracies that traditionally try to protect American consumers from innovation and have mostly escaped from regulations governing automobiles. The main engineering challenge will be payload. When a part of the design doesn't perfect as planned, the typical result is an increase in weight. As the light sport rules impose a hard weight limit at the top, the result may be a flying car that works very well.... for one light person and a half tank of fuel.

-- Philip Greenspun, November 29, 2010

I don't believe the technology issues will be the biggest problem with the Terrafugia. Rather the laws governing both aircraft and automobiles will be a larger problem.

Do you get it inspected as a car and pass emissions etc? Does an aircraft mechanic or car mechanic fix it? Using what parts (approved for aircraft or Autozone?)? What happens if you get in a fender bender? What about insurance?

None of that would bother me as much as the way we would want to use the Terrafugia:

While driving to dinner on the freeway you see a bad traffic jam ahead. Unconcerned you simply unfold your wings and fly over the top of all those poor souls arriving at dinner with time to spare.

Or you're driving down the freeway when you pass a cop going 20 over and before he can pull you over, you simply unfold your wings and lift off. Laughing all the way up to 3,500MSL.

Of course you can't do that so your stuck using airports the same as the rest of us and that defeats the purpose and the potential fun.

Lastly, they don't get any points for appearance. This is coming from someone that likes Cessnas:)

-- Alex Baker, November 29, 2010