The company Terrafugia is close to producing a flying car that consumers could actually afford, with a possible price tag of $279,000.
Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia’s co-founder, CEO and CTO, has been working on the project since 2006. He has had a lifelong passion for flying and for many years has wondered why small aircraft were not developed to be an everyday transportation option.
“I think it’s ridiculous we don’t have these things out there, right now,” Dietrich said, speaking of the flying cars he’s helping to design. “There is so much potential for an economic benefit to society if we have things like this. There have been a number of studies recently that have quantified the economic impact of traffic congestion … just for the U.S., I think it was estimated at $87 billion to $125 billion a year. And that’s just comparing it to driving at normal speeds, without traffic.”
In 2004 Dietrich read about the developments at the Federal Aviation Administration for new types of pilot licenses and a new kind of aircraft certification. It was then that the pathway for Terrafugia began.
The Transition is a small general-aviation airplane that can fold up its wings with just the push of a button. It reaches a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour during flight and in drive mode gets about 35 miles to the gallon.
One of the benefits of Transition is that it runs on premium unleaded automotive gasoline, rather than the more expensive aviation fuel. Once it has been landed at a small airport, the wings fold in less than a minute, the propeller disengages and the rear-wheel drive turns on; now you are ready for the road. Once home Transition will even fit in a single-car garage.
Terrafugia compares converting between flight and drive modes to “putting the top down on your convertible”.
“One of the biggest problems that pilots face is that flying little airplanes is a very weather-sensitive activity,” said Dietrich. “You may fly somewhere, and the weather changes and you’re stuck. You have to make other travel arrangements. It’s not something you can count on. With the Transition, you can count on getting to where you want to go. It may take a little longer, if you have to drive instead of fly, but you still get there, or you get home.”
The first model of this flying car already exists. “We’re flying a second-generation prototype, right now,” Dietrich said of the Transition. “But yes, it’s beyond the proof of concept stage.”
However don’t get too excited just yet, a pilot’s license is still necessary as it is considered a plane. The future looks good for Transition though, as according to Dietrich the National Highway Traffic Safety Aministration has granted the needed special considerations. The next step is for the FAA to make its decisions about special weight allowance.