Saturday, March 21, 2009

Street Legal Airplane

What's this, you say, another dreadful entry about my flying car fantasy?! Ahh, say I, It's closer to being a reality than you think.

Earlier this month, Terrafugia of Woburn, Ma, conducted the first test flights of their "roadable aircraft" at the Plattsburgh, Ny airport (that's just across the lake from my humble hovel in ole St. A - which, I should add, is less humble now that we've ditched the old beige '70s stove for a new, state-of-the-art, duel-oven, glass top jobby with a digital read-out. Wow, who'd of thought a full set of working burners could make cooking so easy. I think we'll get one of those microwaves next.) Video of Terrafugia's first flight can be readily found on Youtube or at the company's website (

The best thing about the "Transition," that's what the folks at Terrafugia have dubbed their aero-car, is that it has been set up with the same controls that are found in a regular car. Just like the Chevy in your driveway, the driver sits on the left with the passenger to right. Naturally, the steering wheel, brake and throttle pedals are to be found in the usual places. I wonder if Terrafugia plans to make a right-seated-driver for the Brits.

Motivated by a 100 hp Rotax 912S engine that delivers power to the front wheels, the "Transition" runs on super unleaded(which, of course, can be sourced from any corner gas station) and is good for top speeds of about 65 mph. According to the company's website, this "roadable airplane" is capable of obtaining 30 miles-per-gallon at highway speed. Equiped with standard seatbelts, airbags and auto safety glass, the transition has been designed to meet the same safety standards as every other modern automobile. As for usable storage space, the "Transition" is not ideal for a jaunt to the grocery. The company states that it has trunk space large enough for skis, a set of golf clubs or a fishing pole - but not all these items at once.

On paper, these specs, modern safety standards aside, are about what I'd expect from my '74 Super Beetle.

That is, until the "Transition's" 27.5 ft bi-folding wings are deployed - via controls located in the cockpit - transforming this auto to aero in seconds. With the wings deployed, power is automatically re-routed from the front wheels to a rear mounted propeller. According to Terrafugia, the "Transition" can take off and land at any runway of at least 2500 ft. Thanks to Eisenhower, I can think of several Interstate stretches that meet this requirement - though the authorities might take issue with a stunt like that. In the air, Terrafugia's strange, little bird can sustain cruising speeds of 115 mph and has a range of 460 miles. This is it, this is the future.

Now, if I only had the $10 large to put down as deposit on the $194,000 final purchase price.

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