Early the morning of March 5, an automobile with foldable wings taxied down a runway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The pilot stepped on the gas and the car took off, flew for 37 seconds and landed further down the runway. It was moment that reminds me of the original Wright Brothers fight. The pilot duplicated the flight about a half dozen times over the next two days. Terrafugia, the company that built the plane, will continue with more tests over the next few months, pushing the plane with longer flights and a variety of maneuvers to learn about its handling characteristics. Terrafugia has named the plane Transition
The street-legal Transition is powered on land and in the air by a recently developed 100 hp Rotax engine that gets 30 mpg on the highway using regular unleaded gasoline. As a plane, its 20-gallon tank gives it a 450-mile range with a 115 mph cruising speed. The pilot can switch from one mode to the other from the driver's seat, simultaneously folding up the wings and shifting the engine power from the rear-mounted propeller to the front wheels in about 30 seconds.
So you can, in minutes, drive to the airport and put down the wings and take off. When you land, you can, in minutes, fold up the wings and drive home. You never have to get out of the car.
The full-sized version being tested now is a proof-of-concept vehicle, to be followed later this year by a production prototype. The company is taking deposits now and hopes to start delivering its first Transitions -- or "roadable planes," as the company calls them -- in late 2011.
The Federal Administration has created a new class of plane (Light Sport Aircraft) and a new “sport pilot” license category just for pilots of such craft, including Terrafugia's two-seater Transition. The "sport pilot" license required to fly the Transition takes only about 20 hours of training time, about half that required to earn a regular pilot's license. We’ve all fantasized about flying in our cars at one time or another, perhaps the Transition concept is the Wright brothers event of our generation.
For more information, pictures, and video, fly on over to http://www.terrafugia.com/