Roadable airplane may fly next month

July 11, 2008

Terrafugia vehicleTerrafugia CEO/CTO Carl Dietrich reported at AOPA Expo that the first Transition roadable airplane might fly in early December. If it doesn’t fly by mid-December, the first flight will likely be postponed until early 2009.

The vehicle (Is it a car or an airplane?) has been driving around on its own power for several weeks and more recently is undergoing taxi tests and tests to validate the flight control effectiveness. Static load testing is complete.

Dietrich said that while the $194,000 vehicle will be able to drive at highway speed, it is not meant to replace a car in the family fleet. Instead it’s a means of getting around on the ground when you land away from your home airport, and a convenient means of moving to and from your home airport for flights—allowing the vehicle to be garaged at home.

Powered by a Rotax engine, the aircraft is being designed to meet special light sport aircraft standards. It will cruise in the air at about 100 knots with a range of about 400 nm.

Terrafugia on the roadAs for road safety, Dietrich reported that the Transition will meet automotive standards in most ways, but because of the cost of crash testing, the company won’t be able to prove all of the safety features for some time. The Department of Transportation allows for low-volume automotive manufacturers to amortize the cost of such testing over a number of years if the manufacturer can show that the vehicle is built in a safe way and that a plan to prove its design through crash testing is in place. Terrafugia is applying for such an exemption. The vehicle will also need an EPA exemption for emissions, since the carbureted Rotax engine does not meet automotive emission standards. Again, Terrafugia is meeting with the agency to develop a plan for an exemption.

Once basic flight testing of the current model is complete, the company plans to design a production prototype early next year and build it during second half of 2009, with first deliveries planned for mid-2010.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.