terrafugia transition flying car

The problem with previous attempts to build a flying car, according to some experts, is that engineers started with a car and tried to morph it into an airplane.
When the founders of Terrafugia embarked on the latest endeavor of taking the flying car out of the pages of science fiction and making it a transportation reality, they reversed the formula. They started with an airplane and attempted to build a car.

So far, it worked. Six years in the making, the company's prototype Transition aircraft completed its first test flight on March 23, an 8-minute, 3-second jaunt over the skies of Plattsburgh, N.Y.

The vehicle has been making the rounds at general aviation trade shows for months. You may have even seen our earlier post on the flying car here. On Wednesday, it broke new ground in making its debut at the New York Auto Show.

"We think we've got a pretty good feel for the aviation market," said Cliff Allen, vice president of sales for Terrafugia. "But we have this big unknown, and that's what's the market in the more general sense? We've had indications there's a lot more interest."

Allen said the company has taken $10,000 deposits from approximately 100 prospective owners. The company expects to begin delivery within the year. It carries an initial sticker price of $279,000, which in the aviation market seems inexpensive for such a new technology.

(By comparison, a brand new Cessna Skyhawk 172, the stalwart of the general aviation industry for decades, costs about the same).

While it may be premature to call the company a success, Terrafugia, based in suburban Boston, has already cleared hurdles that, since 1917, have befallen other attempts to create a flying car.

For one, it's already street legal. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have approved the concept--the vehicle comes with both a VIN number on its dashboard and an N-number on its tail.

Second, it has actually flown. Retired Air Force test pilot Phil Meteer heralded a new era when he lifted off the 10,000-foot runway in Plattsburgh. He called the takeoff, "One small step for an airplane, one giant leap for a car."

And the Transition arrives eight years after the FAA has made it easier for smaller aircraft to be certified and for new pilots to be minted. Potential pilots can receive their sport licenses after 20 hours of flight training, fewer than the 40 needed for a private pilot's license.

Allen said so far, a few of Terrafugia's clients do not yet hold a pilot's license. But that hasn't stifled curiosity.

Crowds circled the display at the Jacob Javits Center on Tuesday as Terrafugia officials demonstrated the flying car's retractable wings. Two electric motors power the wings as they unfold from a standing position in driving mode. It takes about 30 seconds for them to extend into flying position.

The transition between flying and driving is kept simple by the fact there are separate controls – another way Terrafugia has solved engineering problems that stumped previous flying car developers.

There is both a steering wheel for driving and a control stick for flying that emerges from beneath the seat and locks into place.

There are rudder pedals for flying and steering on the runway, and an accelerator and brake pedal for driving and a separate throttle for flight. It uses premium automotive fuel.

"You're dealing with two different engineering challenges," Allen said. "One of the big differences is now we have the materials to make it work on the road. And now, one of the breakthroughs for Terrafugia is we now have something that works. It drives. It flies. It's real."

AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley discusses the Terrafugia last year on Countdown With Keith Olbermann: