Flying car's proof-of-concept testing now complete

Published 6 June 2009

Terrafugia says its Transition flying car has completed the proof-of-concept testing; company now to build a beta test prototype; the company is taking reservations, and deliveries are expected in 2011

The makers of the Terrafugia Transition say that flight testing of the initial proof-of-concept vehicle is now complete, and that the Transition has been shown to be a viable proposition. Massachusetts-based Terrafugia will now build a beta test prototype, incorporating lessons learned by the first phase of flight tests. First customer deliveries are now expected in 2011.

Lewis Page notes that the Transition is not a proper Jetsons-grade flying car. It can not hover or make vertical takeoffs/landings; it is rather noisy in flight; it is not any more able to cope with poor visibility or congested airspace than a normal light aircraft. You can not use it to beat the rush-hour traffic and fly to your office in the city center.

Still, the Transition is a successful “roadable aeroplane.” It takes off, lands, and flies like any other light plane, using small local airfields. On the ground, the pilot can press a button and in thirty seconds the wings fold up. The propeller is disconnected, and the Transition becomes a front-wheel-drive car with typical performance. It runs on unleaded fuel, and will fit into a single-car garage. To fly it, you only need a U.S. sport pilot license, which is significantly easier and cheaper to obtain than a normal private pilot’s license.

Page says that all this means that a Transition is a lot more useful than a normal light plane. You can get into it at home, drive to your local airfield, fly to another field near where you are going, land, and then drive to the very door you want. Normally there would be a lot more hassle with cars, taxis, and more, at each end of the flight — and also the need to find hangar space or a tie-down for the plane at the destination field. Unflyable weather is also a constant hassle for sport and private pilots, but the Transition can always resort to driving on the ground.

The design appears not yet ready for production, as the decision by Terrafugia to mothball the initial craft after 28 flights and build a new prototype makes clear. If only minor tweaks had been necessary, one might have expected modifications to the existing airframe and further flight trials.

I would like to keep flying this Proof of Concept vehicle,” says test pilot (and retired U.S. Air Force colonel) Bill Meteer, “but it makes sense to move on to the Beta Prototype.”

The process of building the Transition has been more difficult than the Terrafugia team had anticipated. Initial customer deliveries were originally expected this year, a forecast which has now slipped. Pages says that it is to be hoped that Terrafugia can stay afloat through the next two years before it starts collecting money from customers.

If you are interested in buying the transition when it becomes available, you may want to note this: The company says that “with the sustained first flight buzz has come a substantial increase in airframe reservations for the Transition,” but unlike some innovative transport companies, Terrafugia does not spend the reservation deposits. They are held in a third-party account which the company can not touch, so that if Terrafugia goes out of business or can not deliver the promised Transition, the customer is guaranteed to get his or her deposit back.