How close does the Terrafugia
Transition come to fulfilling the Jetsonian
promise of a flying car? To Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich's own admission, "we usually think of it more as an airplane that has the added capability of driving." Still, the Transition is unlike anything else in the sky or on the road, even if it's not exactly the futuristic flying car that Hanna-Barbera imagined back in the 1960s.
While it may fly like any other airplane, what makes the Transition so unique is what happens on the ground. In just 1 minute, the Transition can fold its wings like an accordion and drive off at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. During the Transition's transformation from plane to car, a gearbox automatically disengages the propeller and engages the drivetrain, sending up to 100 horsepower from the Rotax 912iS engine to the vehicle's rear wheels. A continuously-variable transmission (CVT) provides seamless shifting on the road.
To switch back to flight-mode, the pilot enters a pin code and watches the wings fold back outward, with automatic L-shaped locks securing them in place. The vehicle is controlled by a steering wheel on the ground, and a stick and rudder setup in the clouds, with a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour.
The Transition is unlike anything else in the sky or on the road...
In either mode, the Transition is surprisingly efficient, rated internally at 35 miles per gallon on the road, and burning only 5 gallons per hour in the air. A 23 gallon fuel tank is good for a range of 410 miles, plus an additional 30 minutes of travel supplied by an emergency reserve tank. Best of all, the Transition runs on readily-available premium automotive fuel, rather than expensive aviation gasoline.
In the case of a major emergency, the Transition is equipped with a full-vehicle parachute, which is exactly what it sounds like. A chute launches from the aircraft at the pull of a level to slow descent during a crash landing. Unlike many other small planes, the Transition also includes automotive safety features like airbags and impact crumple zones.
The Transition accommodates up to two (a pilot and passenger) in automotive-style seating. And, like many modern luxury cars, the cockpit features a touch-screen interface.
As you might imagine, all of this technology and innovation comes at a cost: $279,000, to be exact. The Transition ins't yet in full-scale production, but can be reserved for $10,000.
While the Terrafugia Transition might not look like George Jetson's daily commuter, it's a street legal airplane coming to a garage near you. For the more distant future of the flying car, check out our report on the Terrafugia TF-X
vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) concept.