The Terrafugia Transition, a light aircraft that can convert into a road-legal automobile, is to go into production after being given a special weight exemption by the US Federal Aviation Administration.
By Tom Chivers
Published: 12:56PM BST 29 Jun 2010
The Transition was designed as a “light sport” aircraft, the smallest kind of private aeroplane under FAA classification, with a maximum weight of 1,320lb. But the manufacturers found it impossible to fit the safety features – airbags, crumple zones and roll cage, for instance – that are required for road vehicles into that weight.
Uniquely, however, the FAA has granted the Transition an exemption – allowing it to be classified as a light sport aircraft despite being 120lb over the limit.
Light sport aircraft licences require just 20 hours’ flying time, making them much easier to obtain than full private licences.
The two-seater Transition can use its front-wheel drive on roads at ordinary highway speeds, with wings folded, at a respectable 30 miles per gallon. Once it has arrived at a suitable take-off spot – an airport, or adequately sized piece of flat private land – it can fold down the wings, engage its rear-facing propellor, and take off. The folding wings are electrically powered.
Its cruising speed in the air is 115mph, it has a range of 460 miles, and it can carry 450lb. It requires a 1,700-foot (one-third of a mile) runway to take off and can fit in a standard garage.
Terrafugia says that one of the major advantages of the Transition over ordinary light aircraft is safety – in the event of inclement weather, it can simply drive home instead of either being grounded or flying in unsafe conditions.
The company says that 70 people have ordered the car, leaving a $10,000 (£6,650) deposit each. The car is expected to retail at $194,000 (£129,000). Deposits are held in escrow, meaning that should the company go bankrupt before delivery, the money will be refunded.