June 4, 2009
By Alton K. Marsh
Terrafugia’s proof-of-concept aircraft is retiring after a successful 28-flight career. The next step is an eight-month design phase of a “beta prototype” flying car, expected to be ready in late 2010. A second, pre-production flying model will be followed by the production vehicle. Deliveries to customers are to start in 2011.
Sixty customers placed $10,000 deposits for the roadable airplane with a target price of $194,000. The craft presents a unique engineering challenge: meeting federal crashworthy standards for cars, adding weight to the vehicle, while meeting light sport aircraft weight limits of 1,320 pounds. The proof-of-concept vehicle weighs 1,440 pounds, or 120 more than allowed under light sport ASTM rules. It will not fly again and retires to a life of appearances at trade shows.
The proof-of-concept vehicle—using heavier, off-the-shelf systems and components—flew the last 21 of its flights in less than a week during the final of four test trials. It flew at 150 feet to 200 feet, staying above the runway on all flights. Takeoffs required nearly 2,000 feet, but the final vehicle may improve by hundreds of feet, said CEO and Chief Technical Officer Carl Dietrich.
Nearly full elevator deflection was required to lift off and climb in the proof-of-concept aircraft, which is another issue to be addressed during the design phase by the 10-person staff at Boston-area Terrafugia.
The long takeoff run was required because of the wing’s too-low angle of incidence. Substituting larger wheels on the front of the vehicle helped to raise the aircraft’s nose.
The company is discussing the aircraft with the FAA and hosted a visit by 12 FAA officials in early June.
Company spokesman Richard Gersh said that the vehicle is an airplane, not a car, although it can be driven on the road. “It’s an airplane. Should you damage it, you have damaged your airplane,” which would have to be repaired by an aircraft mechanic, he said.
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