AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 20

WAYPOINTS

Flying car concept falters

BY THOMAS B. HAINES
Editor in Chief

eVTOL moves into the driver's seat
THE FEBRUARY NEWS that the Terrafugia Transition
and its technology were trundling off to China was
surprising only in the sense that it followed by just
a couple of weeks news that the " roadable aircraft "
had been granted a provisional light sport aircraft airworthiness certificate by the FAA. The decision by
the Chinese owners to then shut down the U.S. development operation is just another speed bump in the
aircraft's tortured path toward production.
It was March 19, 2009, when I flew my Bonanza to
Bedford, Massachusetts, and rented a car to drive to
the Boston Science Center for the reveal of what was
promised to be a surprising advancement in aviation.
If only I'd had a flying car, I could have skipped the
rental car part.
To much fanfare and media coverage, the new
Terrafugia Transition was unveiled with the news that
it had made its first flight on March 5, 2009, off the

Developed in secret, this unusual twoplace, four-wheel vehicle with its
folding wings, pusher propeller driven
by a Rotax engine, and turn signals had
already flown. No vaporware here.

In 35 years of
reporting on the
general aviation
marketplace,
Editor in Chief
TOM HAINES has
seen the announcement and falter of
many GA designs.

20 | AOPA PILOT April 2021

11,000-foot-long runway at Plattsburgh, New York. So,
this wasn't a vaporware announcement. This unusual
two-place, four-wheel vehicle with its folding wings,
pusher propeller driven by a Rotax engine, and turn
signals had already flown-a feat not seen since Molt
Taylor launched his Aerocar in 1949. Developed in
secret by a team of MIT engineers led by the husbandand-wife team of Carl and Anna Dietrich, the flying car
was expected to be certified in the LSA category and
delivered in 2011 for $194,000. You could get a production slot on the spot for $10,000.
Shortly after the introduction, the Transition was
trucked to Manhattan and other locations for innumerable media appearances on the morning shows.
While everyone called it a " flying car, " the MIT
team quickly switched to " roadable airplane " because
it was never designed to replace your daily driver.
Nonetheless, pundits wondered what would happen
when it got dinged in the parking lot at Safeway, for

example. Would your A&P need to be called or could
Maaco take care of that?
Alas, that question and many others never got
answered as the project dragged on for more than
a dozen years, with the price rising to as much as
$400,000. Like other aircraft development projects,
the Transition suffered not only from a rising price tag
but also from increased weight. The company applied
for and was granted an exemption that allowed the
Transition to go from the basic LSA weight of 1,320
pounds to 1,430 pounds, the maximum weight for an
LSA seaplane. Later it applied for an increase all the
way to 1,800 pounds, the increases necessary to support the demands of safety gear required to meet the
highway traffic standards.
Also not unusual, the small company struggled for
funds as the project dragged on. In 2017, the Chinese
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group purchased Terrafugia.
While work on the Transition continued, the Chinese
company seemed more interested in using the technology to advance its concepts for vertical takeoff and
landing (VTOL) vehicles. At this writing, the Zhejiang
Geely website currently shows several highly stylized
VTOL concepts and a roadable aircraft concept that
is much sleeker than the last prototype Transition
displayed in the United States. The website also
reports that the company " will continue to promote
the development of Terrafugia's flying car plans with
strengthened R&D efforts in the United States. "
However, according to Forbes magazine reports in
February, between 80 and 100 employees at Terrafugia
were walked out the door of the Woburn, Massachusetts,
headquarters amid reports that continued development
of the product would take place in China.
Meanwhile, the Dietrichs and many of the original MIT graduates who started Terrafugia have left
the organization and found employment working on
eVTOL projects.
So, while it's still possible you may someday see a
Transition cruising down the 101 next to you, it's more
likely you'll see an eVTOL overhead carrying a little of
that Terrafugia DNA. And it's most probable the flying
car concept will remain just that. Not vaporware, but
still unobtanium.
AOPA
EMAIL thomas.haines@aopa.org

@tomhaines29



AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - 7
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - April 2021 - Cover4
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