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Up, Up and Away

By on January 1, 2008

Have you seen that bumper sticker, “I’d Rather Be Flying”? Well, soon a car and a plane may be one and the same.

Terrafugia, a Massachusetts company, is developing a car/light plane hybrid called the Transition that should be available to consumers by 2009 for an estimated $148,000.

Owners can drive it to the nearest small airport and, with the push of a button, extend its wings and fly it up to 500 miles away. When they land, they’ll simply fold up the wings and complete the drive to their destination.

“People have been trying to build a flying car since the first days of airplanes,” says Dr. Samuel Schweighart, VP of engineering for Terrafugia. “We’re not trying to do flying cars for the mass market, but we think this will be the first step toward that.”

The Transition will meet the same standards as any other automobile, so it can be driven on roads and highways. But it will feature a carbon fiber body, 100 horsepower engine, radio and full avionics that will allow it to fly as a lightweight aircraft under FAA regulations. It will fly at up to 14,000 feet altitude.

The Transition is aimed at the 600,000 or so people in the U.S. who have a private pilot license. But because it qualifies as a light aircraft, it will also be available to the growing number of folks who have a sport pilot certificate, which takes about half the time and money to complete.

Schweighart says the FAA is supporting the Transition concept because it may decrease the number of flying accidents caused by bad weather. If conditions turn bad, a pilot can simply land the craft and drive home.

“It gives pilots another option. You can just land and keep driving,” Schweighart says.

The Transition can carry a driver and passenger and little else, since its 550-pound load capacity must factor in both people and gasoline. Still, Schweighart says more than 30 people have already put down deposits on a Transition, and many more are taking a “wait and see” approach.

“Pilots are by nature a skeptical bunch, but this will finally let them do what they’ve always dreamt of,” he says.

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