Thursday, August 16, 2012

Flying car closes in on FAA OK

Terrafugia already has more than 100 orders for its $279,000 aircraft

By Marie Szaniszlo

(Boston Herald) Four months after its debut at the New York International Auto Show, Woburn-based Terrafugia’s version of the “flying car” has buzzed into a second phase of testing, with hopes of obtaining final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in the coming months.

If everything goes according to plan, the Transition could earn its light sport aircraft air-worthiness certificate this winter, allowing it to go to market. The first delivery is expected in September 2013, said Cliff Allen, Terrafugia’s vice president of sales.

“Our No. 1 priority right now is getting our certification,” Allen said.

Although the company has already received more than 100 orders for the $279,000 aircraft, it will produce an initial edition of 10 so that it can monitor them before beginning full production in 2014, he said. Nearly a quarter of the people who have placed deposits on the Transition so far do not have pilot’s licenses, Allen added.

“We find that interesting because it’s bringing new people into aviation,” he said.

For now, the Transition has been making 1 1⁄2-hour deployments from Plattsburgh International Airport, a former Air Force base in New York. Terrafugia chose the airport because it is uncongested and has an 11,000-foot runway, features that make it safe for test flights, Allen said. There, it has been doing climbs, descents and turns to make sure everything works, he said.

After those have been completed, the Transition will do compliance flights to show the FAA that the Transition has met all of the agency’s requirements, Allen said.

The final phase of test flights involves the most extreme maneuvers, including dive testing and spin testing, he said.

The Transition will also undergo drive testing in three-mile laps at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway at higher and higher speeds for longer and longer times to ensure its durability, Allen said.

“They’re chasing a lifelong dream,” Semyon Dukach, one of Terrafugia’s board members and angel investors, said of the company’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained aeronautics engineers. “It’s an improbable dream. People have been talking about flying cars for 50 years. But they took a practical attitude from day one.

“Their No. 1 goal is to have a plane that’s safer than any other small plane,” he added, “and now it’s moving toward production.”


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