Flying car developer Terrafugia is making its NBAA show debut this year, highlighting its TF-2 eVTOL transportation concept at Booth 3134 and displaying a Transition flying car in the indoor static display.
China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group purchased Terrafugia in late 2017, and the influx of resources by the new owners has led to growth in staffing, opening of new facilities, and a plan to begin producing the Transition flying car next year. In August, the company leased 6,700 sq ft of hangar and office space at Nashua Airport in New Hampshire. Earlier this year, Terrafugia added a research and development facility in Petaluma, California. Staffing has grown from 20 to more than 200 people.
Founded by five Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates in 2006, Terrafugia pursued a unique path to bringing a flying car to market. The Transition has wings that fold up against the cabin after landing, for a simple transition between flying or driving modes. But what makes the Transition different from other flying cars, including two that achieved FAA certification but never made it into production, was the light sport aircraft (LSA) regulations that came into effect in 2004.
Terrafugia’s engineers calculated that they could design a roadable airplane—a true flying car— that would fit within the strict LSA weight and performance constraints. While the company did try to meet those constraints, it petitioned the FAA for an exemption, which was approved in 2016, for a higher maximum takeoff weight, to 1,800 pounds. The LSA weight limit is 1,320 pounds, although in 2010 Terrafugia had received an exemption to 1,430 pounds, the same weight allowed for amphibious LSAs.
Terrafugia’s Transition first flew in 2009 and made a big splash at EAA AirVenture 2013 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where the test pilot drove the flying car in front of crowds, pushed a button to unfold the wings, then took off and flew in front of thousands of fascinated spectators.
Two flight-test Transitions have flown more than 200 hours, but despite earlier promises, the product languished, and progress seemed to have halted until the new owners injected fresh funding.
At this year’s AirVenture, Terrafugia unveiled design changes and improvements to the two-seat Transition, which will meet FAA LSA and U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration standards. Terrafugia expects LSA validation of the Transition in 2019.
The burden on the Transition’s Rotax engine will be reduced in driving mode, aided by a new hybrid mode. A new lithium-ion battery system will help power the Transition on the ground. The engine will have a boost mode to provide “a brief burst of extra power while flying.” New safety systems include improved seat belts, airbags, and three rearview mirrors. Terrafugia has selected Dynon for avionics and BRS to supply a whole-airframe parachute system.
Terrafugia plans to manufacture composite components in its Lianjing, China facility, then ship them to company headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts, for final assembly, followed by delivery at Nashua Airport, according to a company spokeswoman.
Current pricing of the Transition is not yet available, but the company is taking deposits with letters of intent for purchase. Terrafugia had more than 10 deposit holders as of the end of September, she told AIN.
The TF-2 is Terrafugia’s concept for an eVTOL-type system that separates a passenger cabin or cargo container from the aircraft or ground vehicle portion. Passengers, for example, would climb aboard a four-seat cabin, which would be transported by the ground vehicle to a flight facility. Once there, the ground vehicle would move the cabin into position to be mated to the air vehicle, which would then fly the cabin to another location, where another ground vehicle would take the cabin to its final destination.
The Petaluma R&D center is “completing the initial design,” said the spokeswoman. Flight testing of scale models is planned by the end of 2019, and a TF-2 model is on display at the Terrafugia booth.