The stories are legion... the 'roadable plane' the vehicle that would cross over a number of barriers to offer the ultimate in transportation versatility. And that' just some talented engineers from MIT are working on... the 21st century version of the 1960s "Aero Car."
Introduced at Oshkosh 2008, a group of award-winning MIT Aeronautical Engineers introduced a proof of concept version of what they hope will expand the general aviation market and bring more flexibility to flying. The Terrafugia management team credits the creation of the Light Sport category of aircraft as the catalyst to being able to develop a buildable and marketable LSA, capable of both flying and driving.
Unlike other historic attempts at developing a "flying car", the Transition's transformation from aircraft to car is fully automated and takes an estimated 15 seconds to fold the wings and reconfigure from an aircraft to a car. The company has a US patent pending on the folding wing technology, and from a business perspective, sees many of the technological achievements as alternative revenue sources to fund company growth and financial stability.
At Oshkosh, Terrafugia President Dr. Carl Dietrich shared what MIT scientists believe are fundamental obstacles to increasing the GA market and the benefits that a roadable aircraft has in response. The first obstacle presented is weather. The Transition would allow the LSA pilot to use the road configuration during IFR conditions. Dietrich says this improves safety, by providing an alternative option to "pushing it" in marginal VFR.
Another obstacle Dietrich cited is cost. The Transition is spec'd with a 20 gallon tank designed to achieve 4-5 gallons per hour fuel economy in flight configuration. It can be powered with either super-unleaded gasoline or 100LL, and most notably would not require a hangar or tie-down space at an airport. The Transition could be driven home and parked in the garage.
The third issue mentioned was mobility once arriving at an airport. The theory is the remote nature of most GA airports presents some inconvenience and the ability to drive to an off airport destination would appeal to many GA aircraft users.
The interior cabin is equipped with two seats and has both a fixed wheel, for driving, and a left handed stick typical in most LSAs. The stick can be mounted to the floor in driving configuration. The Transition is carbon fiber construction powered by a Rotax 112S. Based on an estimated empty weight of 890 lbs, the aircraft would have an approximately payload of 430 pounds with a range of 400 nm and a cruise speed of 100 kts.
In addition to FAA certification, the Transition must also pass roadway safety standards mandated by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), explained Gregor Cadman, one of Terrafugia's engineers. "The Transition will include things like airbags, safety glass, and a must undergo a crash test" said Cadman. "FAA is used to looking at new aircraft concepts; we can't say the same for NHTSA. They're used to talking with the likes of Ford and GM. These features do add some weight."
The design has been extensively tested in simulation and the MIT wind-tunnel. The proof of concept aircraft will undergo further refinement in the Boston area and is projected by Terrafugia to be road tested in the Fall 2008 and take its first flight Late 2008. If all goes as planned, the first delivery would occur as early as Late 2009.
They anticipate the purchase price to be in the range of $194,000 and are accepting deposits of $10,000.
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