September 6, 2006 11:53 AM PDT

Flying-car firm releases simulator, takes deposits

The Transition, a plane that can also be driven as a car, won't come out for a few years, but you can try a flight simulator now and put a deposit on a future plane too.

Terrafugia, a "roadable aircraft" developer that emerged out of MIT, has devised a flight simulator for its aircraft (which can be downloaded here). The application runs on top of the X-Plane simulator for Laminar Research.

Potential buyers can also now plunk down $7,400, or 5 percent of the anticipated $148,000 purchase price, for a deposit on a Transition. The planes will come out in late 2009. A fully operational prototype is expected to come out in 2008.

Some third parties have already put deposits down, according to Anna Mracek, COO of Terrafugia. If you put a deposit down today, you would be reserving an airframe number between 20 and 30. (Some early airframes will go to planes sent to government agencies for testing.)

Although the term "flying car" makes for an easily graspable mental image, Terrafugia prefers to call it a roadable aircraft because the Transition will spend most of the time in the air. Owners will, ideally, drive the two-passenger vehicle from their garage to an airport. At that point, the retractable wings will be unfolded and it will turn into a plane.

Terrafugia showed off a 1/5th-scale model at the AirVentures Conference in August in Oshkosh, Wis.

"A few of the older gentlemen I talked to told me that they had been waiting for something like this their whole lives and were so excited that we were making it real while they were still able to fly it," wrote Mracek in an e-mail. "There was naturally some healthy skepticism as well, but even the skeptics were looking forward to us bringing a flying prototype to Oshkosh one of these years."

The model will be shown off again on Sept. 9 at the EAA Sport Pilot Tour at Lawrence Municipal Airport in Lawrence, Mass.

The Transition is designed for jumps of 100 to 500 miles. It will carry two people and luggage on a single tank of premium unleaded gas. It will also come with an electric calculator (to help fine-tune weight distribution), airbags, aerodynamic bumpers and, of course, a navigation unit with a global positioning system.

A couple of budding airlines and light-plane manufacturers say the future of commercial aviation lies in carrying passengers on small planes for relatively short hops. Roads are crowded, getting to the airport remains a chore, and major airlines don't conduct many flights between suburbs or outlying cities that have emerged as regional economic powers in the last two decades. Most of these planes, however, won't get driven to the airport like the Transition but get boarded at the airport.

A couple of other start-ups, some of which are still in stealth mode, are looking at recreational flying vehicles.

Flying cars are technically feasible. Terrafugia co-founder and CEO Carl Dietrich points out that inventor Molt Taylor built prototypes in the 1950s and 1960s--but they haven't been economically practical.

The picture has changed, however, with the development of lighter and stronger construction materials and more-efficient engines.

Dietrich came up with the idea while a student at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Earlier this year he won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, which recognizes invention and innovation. He also holds a patent for the centrifugal direct injection engine, a low-cost, high-performance rocket propulsion engine. Dietrich conducted his rocket engine research as an undergraduate at MIT.

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45 comments

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Well, its a start.
But lets be real. We all want something that can take off from our front lawn like those vehicles in Blade Runner. The vehicle in this article is just an airplane with powered wheels for short road travel.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree - a start
Yes, there are many issues to be worked out before these vehicles hit the road/skies. For example, right now, security is extremely tight at airports. I can't imagine there would be an express-lane for these "roadable airplanes." I imagine the security to get from the road to the runway with one of these vehicles would involve some pretty aggressive security. Obviously, an operator of these vehicles would need both a driver's license and a pilot's license. The considerable difficulty and expense of getting a pilot's license will keep these from getting too numerous, but I can see the day when those with sufficient resources can take off vertically from the driveway with an air vehicle and set it down in a parking space at work, at the mall, or wherever. I hope regulations for these vehicles will be considered before they we start getting air-traffic jams, but sooner or later, appropriate regulations will come. An exciting start. It will be interesting to see where it takes us!
Posted by ghosford (49 comments )
Link Flag
flying cars
I digg this completely, but what about those nefarious elements
who might pay chump change and...
then again, there are those who will bring road rage in to the
airspace too :-)
Posted by Girish Joshi (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
flying cars
I digg this completely, but what about those nefarious elements
who might pay chump change and...
Posted by Girish Joshi (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A whole new axis!
Lets just hope they learn to fly better then they can drive.

Instead of just front-back and side-side now we can worry about above-below. Oh Boy! I can hardly wait for the road-rage dog fights!

Anybody know where I can get a good used 50 cal?
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
flying vs. driving
you'll need a pilot's license to, ah, drive this thing in the air. if you can't "drive safely" in the sky sufficiently well to satisfy an FAA examiner, you won't get your pilot's license.

in other words, your objection is silly.

another reason it's silly is economic. this thing costs 3x as much as a porsche 911 and 2x as much as a 911 turbo. it's not terribly expensive as planes go but wildly expensive for a car. road rage with a $150K vehicle? possible but unlikely.

-Declan
(FAA-licensed pilot)
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Link Flag
Flying Car !!
When the car manufacturers are talking about Hybrid cars running on clean fuel, its a pity that such a futuristic mode of transportation should still depend on "Unleaded Fossil Fuel". I hope the inventors of this take this comment in the right spirit and make their invention run on cleaner fuel. Whne that happens,I hope to buy myself one then :).
Posted by Vijay G (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
good luck
good luck powering anything that flies with alternative fuels, reliably and cost effectively.
Posted by doc362 (9 comments )
Link Flag
old news, moller has been working on one since the 60s
Moller has been researching / developing variations of flying cars since the late 50s. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.moller.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.moller.com</a> and they're been taking deposits for a few years now. They've been producing 300 of them a year last I checked. The only set back to prevent mass production is their pending FAA approval.
Posted by doc362 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Umm, not really
Moller only sells merchandise related to the Skycar. Yes they do take deposits, by they have yet to build one that actually works.
Posted by kestrel3 (5 comments )
Link Flag
Don't Forget the Waterman Arrowbile ...
which first flew on February 21, 1937 (see <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_car" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_car</a> for more about this, the Aerocars, and all of the other dead-ends over the decades.)

I'm an engineer and a pilot, and I really don't like pouring cold water over such ideas, but this is a case of history repeating itself, if ever there was one. Every once in a while, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and similar publications have rolled out this very tired old dog as cover stories (the Wikipedia page above features the cover artwork for several of them, which are pretty neat to look at) in order to goose magazine rack sales, I guess. "Flying cars" have been "just around the corner" for almost 70 years, starting with Waldo Waterman's five Arrowbiles (a sixth was never completed), and continuing with Moulton Taylor's Aerocar, of which six were built and flew, with one still flying (another that isn't even airworthy has reportedly been for sale recently for $3.5 million - get your bids in now!). However, production of the Aerocar never started because no more than half of the 500 initial orders required by the contracted factory (Ling-Temco-Vought) materialized. You're going to see exactly the same thing happen here with the Transition - a full-scale flying prototype will probably be built, but, as inevitable engineering and manufacturability problems are encountered, the production model price tag will climb even higher than its already too-high level for anyone other than rich collectors and pilots with more money than they know what to do with, and the prototype(s) will inevitably make a nice addition to some museum or private collection.

As for the idiots-in-the-sky problem, it already exists, despite the cost of becoming certified and acquiring and operating even the least expensive of aircraft (including building your own). I can't count how many stupid things I've seen other pilots do (including commercial pilots, BTW) on a daily basis, and one only needs to consult the NTSB accident and incident database to find the ample evidence of such stupidity. The number one cause of small aircraft deaths is running out of fuel (and it usually has more to do with the "loose nut" behind the yoke/stick doing things like not taking a headwind into account, than defective gauges). The next most frequent cause of fatal accidents is flying perfectly good aircraft into the ground/water soon after entering clouds/fog in an aircraft not certified for flight in instrument meteorological conditions, by a pilot who usually isn't instrument rated. These causes don't even begin to count all of the hare-brained things (at the risk of insulting any rabbits out there) that happen on a daily basis, like clipping utility wires/poles, trees and other things sticking out of the ground, due to low approaches, making approaches into unfamiliar fields without checking the wind direction during a pass over the field before entering the pattern (much less monitoring and self-announcing on the designated frequencies for fields without towers), etc. It's actually a wonder that more accidents don't happen, and adding people to the air who don't play well with others on the roads isn't going to help things at all. Fortunately, flying cars aren't going to happen anytime soon, so this is essentially a moot point.

The cost of obtaining a pilot's certificate (technically, it's not a license) has recently theoretically dropped from an average of about $6,000 (for a full private pilot's certificate) to somewhat more than half that, with the new Sport Pilot certificate, which requires about half of the flight training hours needed for a private pilot (but, flight is restricted to FAA-certified max two-seat, 135 mph or slower Light Sport Aircraft, and no night flying or flight in controlled airspace, among other limitations, without optional training and endorsement by a certified flight instructor). Plus, only a valid state drivers license is needed for a Sport Pilot certificate, in lieu of an FAA medical certificate (unless you have been denied or had a medical certificate revoked due to a medical condition). The concept is that (ideally, mostly younger) people can get into flying for less money up-front, and then as their skills improve and their desires increase (probably only with improvements in their paycheck) they will transition to full private pilot, and perhaps even commercial pilot certifications. Part of the reason for this effort by the FAA (with lots of help from the Experimental Aircraft Association and small aircraft manufacturers - over 10 years' worth of cajoling and coaxing to make SP/LSA realities) is that the commercial airlines are starting to lose their most senior pilots in increasing numbers due to retirement and medical limitations (a large number started when the Jet Age began in the 1960s - 1970s, and they're now all getting old in a large group). There are plenty of guys sitting in the co-pilots' seats to replace them throughout the major airlines, but the problem is that there is going to be a gap at the entry level, especially for the newer, smaller regional airlines using the next-generation 50 ~ 60 seat jets (e.g., Bombardier Canadairs). Their acquisition and operating costs are much lower than those for aging 737, MD-9x, and early Airbus aircraft the major airlines still need to fully depreciate for years to come. It's much cheaper to operate one of the newer aircraft full-time, and a second as needed for weekend and holiday surge periods.

However, when two of the newer, smaller aircraft are operated for a route that one older aircraft would serve, two crews are needed, and that will make the entry-level pilot shortage worse. It's even worse in the commercial helicopter industry, where only about 12,000 commercial helo pilots remain of the 61,000+ who dominated the industry for the last five decades after the Korean and Vietnam Wars, again due to retirement and medical issues. It's becoming so severe that some off-shore oil well helo pilots are making more than the highest-paid wide-body airline captains (especially as the latter are being battered by union concessions due to airline bankruptcies).

Declan, I don't know where you're buying your Porsche Turbo(s? :) but their price tags are in the ballpark of one of these Transition toys (especially if you add just a single option to the Turbo, like the carbon-fiber gear shift knob! ;) Let me know where you can buy a new Turbo for under $75K (tax, title and other fees not included, of course, which certainly push the cost well into flying car price tag territory).

I would love to own a flying car, too (but, not at $148K for the base model Transition, which will most likely cost a lot more, when the marketing haze finally clears, and in the unlikely event these ever make it into volume production). However, flying even the most efficient general aviation aircraft (which a car/plane certainly never will be due to engineering trade-offs needed for each mode) will always be more expensive than the average coach airline seat, for the same number of miles traveled (especially alone). Driving your airplane the last miles to/from work/home would probably be when you're at the highest risk for injury, death and/or damage to the car/aircraft, since most vehicle accidents happen where you spend most of your time on the road (and where the idiots who haven't made it into the sky still are, along with the idiots who _have_ made it into the air!). Anything more than a fender-bender in a very light car/aircraft is not going to be a lot of fun to experience, and will very likely be fatal at anything more than bumper-to-bumper speeds, not to mention the catastrophic structural damage that would likely render the car/aircraft undriveable, much less unflyable (the insurance companies probably aren't going to want to touch a Transition with a ten-foot pole, either, which will make driving and flying a most financially risky proposition, not to mention illegal on probably any road).

At least I already have X-Plane to run the simulation on, and the Transition definition files are a free beta download. To dream, perchance to fly, someday in the indefinite future.

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ill say this
I can just immagine some drunk, comming from a bar late at night opening the wings and taking off, and landing repeatedly (instead of in a regular car swurving left to right. You can keep drunks from flying a plane at the airport, but not in a flying car.

Bad idea!!!
Posted by guffwave (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very bad idea
This whole idea of selling flying cars to anybody is the start of something disasterous. Apparently at MIT they are only good at the technical part of it, not the common sense part. Also the drunks can crash into peoples homes, and other buildings. The gov't better stop this from happening now.
Posted by thmst30 (33 comments )
Link Flag
What a dumb idea
Instead of putting down a $7,400 deposit, I'll use that money to bet this bizarre thing will not in a million years be commercialized. Here's an idea, why don't you leave your airplane at the airfield where it belongs, and drive to the airport in an actual car?

What's next, a combination cell phone/peanut butter sandwich?
Posted by MikeDson (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hell yeah, it's about time.
Stop the talking and build the damn thing.
Posted by joseejosee (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Flying car nothing new
Nothing new about a flying car. A fellow in town had one in the fifties when I was a kid. I saw it on the raod now and then. Looked like a dog of a car. Probably handled worse in the air.

Reminds me of the car-boat attempts. Not of much use as either.
Posted by poordirtfarmer (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
The Skycar looked more promising.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.moller.com/skycar/" target="_newWindow">http://www.moller.com/skycar/</a>
Posted by prasadee (2 comments )
Link Flag
Areocar?
And one of the five is for sale (sorry about the long URL):

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=aerocar05m&#38;date=20060905" target="_newWindow">http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=aerocar05m&#38;date=20060905</a>

cdv
Posted by Chris DeVoney (1 comment )
Link Flag
Skycar looked more promising
Whats with the wings?
The skycar looked much more promising. <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.moller.com/skycar/" target="_newWindow">http://www.moller.com/skycar/</a> A personal aircraft that has fully controlled vertical take off + landing, and uses lightweight nuclear fuel will get my deposit. Not this stupid foldable thing. Paper plates are foldable, not aircrafts.
Posted by prasadee (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
so the on the chance that your ideal car crashes...
It will cause a mini-nuclear explosion...
Muslim Extremists of the world, get your hot-wiring kits ready! :O
Posted by (461 comments )
Link Flag
Oh Joy
As a pilot I can tell you this totally stupid. For so many reasons on many levels. Flying is serious business you cant just "pull over" when things go wrong you also can kill people on the ground when you crash.....say maybe a school. FAA airspace rules are much more complex than the rules of our highways. I wont even get into the nuances of safe piloting. The way things are now I dont want some fool in the air talking on their cell eating a burger and being totally distracted flying over my home. Most people arent even smart enough to drive safely let alone flying. Most fools I see on the road could'nt even comprehend proper weight and balance of the aircraft, effects of density altitude and fuel calculations. I hope this idea never gets off the ground, no pun intended. Flying cars.....great in sci-fi movies...real life no way.
Posted by MarkL8 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Oh Joy
I imagine people felt the same way about letting the ig'rant masses have Model T's.
Posted by (402 comments )
Link Flag
I AGREE
This is the start of very very bad times if it happens. I am scared to death of the thought of some idiot who can;t drive well on the road, flying over my house and near my childs school. Why do you think it takes a lot of training and hard work for someone to be a pilot? Because its an extremely difficult occupation, and any old person can't do it. The Government better stop this right now.
Posted by thmst30 (33 comments )
Link Flag
I AGREE
This is the start of very very bad times if it happens. I am scared to death of the thought of some idiot who can't drive well on the road, flying over my house and near my childs school. Why do you think it takes a lot of training and hard work for someone to be a pilot? Because its an extremely difficult occupation, and any old person can't do it. The Government better stop this right now.
Posted by thmst30 (33 comments )
Link Flag
No effing way...
Would *I* want someone in one of these things flying above me. Jesus. People are too godamn stupid to even stay in their own lane, turn their signals on, or even drive at a reasonable pace, let alone FLY.

I'm with you, man. this... is stupid.
Posted by (461 comments )
Link Flag
re: much different
I'm sure it will require going through the FAA and getting a private pilot license and will require you to take off and land at airports and not straight out of the drive-thru at McDonald's. I definitely agree with your skepticism, though. I mean, after all, we are dealing with human beings still.
Posted by rob-bob (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Start of something VERY BAD
Do you people not understand the repricutions of having flying cars. Most people can't even drive on a road, how will they be able to fly. It will be complete chaos, as there is no way to organize flying cars. People will contanly crash into other cars and even worse, buildings. If you wreck on the highway you can live. If you wreck in the air you will freefall and most certainly die. Also any terrorist can buy a car and fly it into a building, no reason to mess with planes anymore. If they don't make it a law that you must have a fling license, then this will be nothing short of disasterous. I know you all just jump to the conclusion of, "oh thats so cool", but take a minute a REALLY think about it. Instead of drunk drivers killing people, it will be drunk flyers crashing into peoples homes. This is not good at all for anyone. If anything we need to restructure the entire ground travel. Leave the airspace alone. I am not a very negative person, but any two year old can see the horrible dangers that this brings. I hope I never see the day were flying cars are sold to the general public.
Posted by thmst30 (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Views of horse-buggy owners ?
The same views were probably expressed at the time the motorcar was invented, but horse-buggy owners.

At first, flying cars would be too expensive for the general (bad driving) public. By the time their price will reach the level of public availability, a road/highway system in the airspace, for personal flying machines, will probably be instituted, along with the safety measures in the flying car technology to correct bad flying-drivers' mistakes.

As for the terrorism issue: a terrorist could fly a light Cessna/Piper plane now - and crash it into a building, with more dire consequences, as the current light airplane is heavier than the future flying car.
Posted by ronbarak (2 comments )
Link Flag
Flying-car
I remember an old TV show staring Bob Cummings who flew a flying-car on his show. Plus I seen some here in St. Louis, Mo. &#38; he lived in Joplin, Mo.
I'm sure the flying-car you are talking about is a lot more advance then his ever was. Then again you did say back in the 50's &#38; 6o's they did have them too.
Ernie
Posted by Ernie White (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
expensive! get a hybrid until then
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.white.in/result.php?Keywords=Hybrid+Cars" target="_newWindow">http://www.white.in/result.php?Keywords=Hybrid+Cars</a> haha u can get the flying car but u can atleast get a hybrid car!
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
where's my jet pack???
When I was a child back in the 60s, we were all promised jet packs by the year 2000. Needless to say, I'm still waiting...
Posted by Rob Hurley (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where's my Jet Pack???
When I was a child back in the 60s, we were all promised jet packs by the year 2000. Needless to say, I'm still waiting...
Posted by Rob Hurley (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
stupid drivers
This is a car for pilots not a plane for automobile drivers.
Posted by p-air225q (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
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Posted by lucifinil (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flying car
Last week, someone drove an Accord off a road, and hit a residential house's bathroom on its 2nd floor in Long Island, NY.

Just look at the highway and see for yourself how many irresponsible drivers out there. Can we really trust people with a real "flying car"? IMO, the "flying car" concept is decades away, not because of the technology to keep a car from flying, but because of the technology to keep it fly safe.
Posted by Pixelslave (101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very Cool
Far as I'm concerned I'd love to see the project succeed. I could care less about the concerns of some here regarding drunks and inexperienced pilots. If the thing is easy to fly as they say, great. Designating lanes of sky traffic would be a simple matter and with todays navigation technology travel should be a breeze. The hardest part will probably be landing and taking off. For the rest, can you say "Auto-pilot?"

Seems to me most travel at least early on would be cross country. Airlanes can easily be designated to ensure the relative safety of most on the ground. Also as is with any new technology, rules and regs and probably and expensive government agency will spring up. It might take some time to get it right but what doesn't?

There's always naysayers of new technologies. Go crawl under a rock if you want to. I say bring on the skycar.
Posted by Vizm Vaulg (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Other interesting links
Here are a couple of links to mor einfo on Flying Cars:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.roadabletimes.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.roadabletimes.com</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.haynes-aero.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.haynes-aero.com</a>
Posted by robnhaynes (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
StrongMobile "Magic Dragon" Aircar Project
You are cordially invited to visit my website to see my aircar project at: www.strongware.com/dragon
Posted by RichStrong (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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