Terrafugia Transition Driving, Wing Folding, Flying Demo Set for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

 - July 26, 2013, 10:05 AM
Terrafugia’s Transition is expected to be certified and begin deliveries in late 2015 or early 2016. (Photo: Terrafugia)

One of the most eagerly anticipated demonstrations at this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show is the first publicly planned flight of the Terrafugia Transition flying car. “This is the first public display of the Transition doing its thing,” said Richard Gersh, vice president of business development for Woburn, Mass.-based Terrafugia, although the company did host an invitation-only flight demo at Lawrence Airport near Boston last October.

The Transition flight, which includes a driving and conversion demo, will take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31, at Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport, while there is still light in the sky and before the nighttime aerobatics show begins. The selection of the Wednesday evening slot for the demo flight is not just because the summer air is cooler, which in general enhances performance, but was recommended by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the show air boss, according to Gersh.

“We felt that this would be the opportune time to demonstrate the flying car in front of the largest possible crowd,” he said. “Everybody would prefer to do it when the weather is cooler, so that is somewhat of a consideration, but it was really the opportunity with the new evening airshow. It will be before sunset so this is not part of the night airshow.”

At AirVenture, Terrafugia is holding daily events at its booth (23, north of the main gate), including technical presentations by CEO Carl Dietrich and an autograph signing session by chief test pilot Phil Meteer.

Terrafugia has received more than 100 deposits for the $279,000 Transition, with the earliest deliveries projected in late 2015 through March 2016. “It’s largely dependent upon our testing program and getting into certification,” said Gersh. Deposits ($10,000) are refundable, except for a premier edition Transition, for which buyers paid a larger non-refundable deposit for one of the first 10 airframes.

The Transition is a light sport aircraft (LSA) and thus will be certified under the ASTM consensus standards that apply to LSAs. But as a flying car, the Transition also has to meet federal motor vehicle safety standards, although Terrafugia has received exemptions from certain requirements. Terrafugia has also received an FAA exemption allowing an increase in maximum takeoff weight to 1,430 pounds, 110 pounds more than the normal LSA limit of 1,320 pounds, which helps accommodate airbags and other automotive crash-safety features. An airframe parachute is planned as an option. Pilots can obtain a light sport pilot certificate in 20 hours of flying time, and they do not need an FAA medical certificate, just a valid driver’s license.

The two-seat Transition will cruise at 87 knots, have a range of more than 350 nm, a useful load of 500 pounds and require 1,700 feet to take off over a 50-foot obstacle. The Transition’s 100-hp Rotax 912iS engine will burn five gallons per hour in the air and deliver 35 mpg on the ground. No trailer is needed for any part of the Transition on the ground because the wings fold. The rear wheels drive the Transition in road mode, and the driver/pilot will use a steering wheel on the ground and stick and rudders in the air.

Gersh said that Terrafugia has been discussing insurance coverage with insurance providers and regulators “for a number of years. We are highly confident that we will have an insurance program in place for our customers before first delivery. We’re looking at the two-policy solution, which means you will need an aircraft policy and an auto policy, but designed so they complement each other so you won’t have two insurance companies essentially covering the same risk.”

While the Transition is a flying car, it is an LSA and thus subject to the limitations of that category of aircraft. “It’s not meant to replace your SUV,” he said, “[or] your six-place Cherokee but, for instance for a retired couple that wants to travel around with a couple of carry-on bags and fuel for several hours, that’s the perfect combination.” Gersh expects most Transition buyers to use the airplane for recreational purposes, which is the original intent of the LSA regulations. “Now that they can take their car with them on a trip in their airplane they have ground transportation.” Some buyers have said they plan to use the Transition for business, too. Light sport pilots aren’t permitted by regulation to fly in furtherance of a business, but for a private pilot flying an LSA, there is no such restriction (as long as the pilot has a current medical certificate).

“We are in the Boston area,” Gersh said, “and if you want to go to Bar Harbor, Maine, for a weekend, the traffic is horrendous. Or going to Cape Cod, it’s awful. If you can fly over that traffic and land at a small airport and fold up the wings…I spent many years taking the boat from Hyannis to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. My wife and I don’t go there on weekends any more; it’s not worth it. But from here it’s about an hour flight and you still have your car and you can drive to the beach. When you get back to Hyannis and the weather’s turned, drive home. So you have that option.”

Terrafugia has logged more than 50 hours of Transition flight testing and still has to accomplish spin testing, which is required under the ASTM standards. “We’ve got hundreds of miles on the road,” he said. Transition D-1 (developmental one) was the proof-of-concept version and first flew in 2009. D-2 is the version that has done most of the flight testing and will fly at Oshkosh, and D-3 is a static-test article. “The next preproduction version will be D4 that’s currently being designed,” Gersh said.

The seemingly long development time for the Transition has everything to do with it being a flying car, even though the LSA certification process is far simpler than traditional FAA Part 23 certification. Part of the lengthy process is the number of government agencies involved. “If it were only two we’d be in great shape,” said Gersh. “We deal with virtually every regulator from the EPA to DOT, and the DOT is NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] on one side and the FAA on the other. At the state level it’s the insurance departments, tax departments, motor vehicle safety inspections, the registrars of motor vehicles. If this was easy somebody would have already done it.”