The Mythical Man-Month, Fred Brooks identifies “Second System Syndrome” as a problem that can doom projects to multi-year delays and huge cost overruns (though not enough to sink a near-monopoly like IBM was in the 1960s). Software companies that have a successful “first system” out on the market write down a comprehensive list of everything that could be improved, then promise to fix all of those identified problems with a “second system”.
Terrafugia, the MIT spinoff company that has been struggling to get a flying car (a.k.a. “roadable aircraft” a.k.a. “do you want to get a door ding at Walmart in your $280,000 airplane”?) into the market has now announced the TF-X, which will solve all known problems with light airplanes, four-seat automobiles, and light helicopters. So the “second system” has been announced some years before the “first system” is likely to get into the hands of customers.
[I’m a little bit skeptical of the value of a flying car versus legacy airplanes. I flew a Cirrus SR20 to Indiana, Pennsylvania last weekend. At 150 knots the trip seemed endless, nearly three hours of flight time on the way back due to a 15-knot headwind. The purpose of the trip was to visit my cousin Olivia, who was performing (fantastically I might add!) in an Indiana University of Pennsylvania production of Lysistrata. Olivia is just a freshman and does not have a car. But guess what her best friend has… a car! So they picked me up at the airport, a five-minute drive from campus. Later in the afternoon Olivia’s mom, my cousin Lynn, showed up in… a car. So I now had two chauffeur-driven cars in which to ride. Lynn happily drove me to the airport the next morning. My ground experience would have been worse if I’d had to drive the Cirrus, alone, to the university and then the Comfort Inn. And the experience of going back to Boston at 75 knots of ground speed in a Terrafugia would have been horrific. The 2005 Cirrus that I flew, with its Avidyne glass panel and slightly crummy autopilot, is worth about $120,000, less than half the cost of a new Terrafugia and therefore insurable at a much lower annual rate.]