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The start-up Terrafugia first popped up on our radar screens in early 2006 with a one-fifth scale model, $30,000 in prize money, and an urge to build a car that could fly. Or is that an airplane you can take on the highway? Some signs point strongly to the latter. Terrafugia describes its Transition vehicle as a “roadable aircraft” and is pitching it in part as giving private pilots an easy travel alternative when bad weather makes flying a bad idea, or simply to avoid having to take a separate car to the airport. Also, in the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, the vehicle falls into the light sport aircraft category.
On March 5, Terrafugia got to show that–whatever the eventual business prospects–the Transition can indeed fly. The maiden voyage (the duration wasn’t specified) took place at the Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, with a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel in the pilot’s seat. The flight followed six months of static, road, and taxi testing.
As a car, the two-seat Transition is designed to be easy on garages and oncoming traffic–its wings fold up quite snugly. In folded mode, the approximately 19-foot-long vehicle is 80 inches wide, and 6 feet, 9 inches high. As an airplane, it stands a few inches shorter and has a wingspan of 27 feet, 6 inches.
The vehicle runs off unleaded fuel from your run-of-the-mill gas station for both terrestrial and aerial travel, cruising at highway speeds on land and better than 115 miles per hour in the air.
But Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia (Latin for “escape from land”) still has a long road ahead of it. The vehicle that flew earlier this month is still just a proof of concept, and a production prototype has yet to be built, tested, and certified. The company says it expects to make the first customer delivery of a Transition in 2011.