skyworthy car

Terrafugia's Transition vehicle armed with fold-down wings and four-wheels. Photo - Tunisian News Agency (TAP)

A US company has displayed a new prototype car at the New York International Auto show that is licensed not only to drive but also to fly. “This street legal aeroplane is the world’s first vehicle to have met both the standards of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)”, said Cliff Allen, Vice President of Sales at Terrafugia.

The four wheeled, two seater machine with retractable wings is known as the ‘Transition’.

Terrafugia says it expects to release flying machine by next year with a price tag of approximately $279,000.

Test flight

FAA has issued an experimental certificate permitting the company to fly it in US airspace for testing. It is expected to avail the light sport aircraft licence soon. The vehicle completed its first successful test flight at Plattsburgh International Airport near Montreal, Canada, last month. A retired US Air Force test pilot took the maiden voyage, flying it at 1400 feet for eight minutes.

Dr. Samuel Schwegart is an engineer at Terrafugia associated with the project said they were very fortunate to have found him. The detailed test report is yet to be disclosed.

The company is checking to see how this vehicle meets road and sky standards. “We were curious to see how it would take off. Unlike a normal plane, it cannot rock back on its rear wheels at the moment of take-off, because it is designed to be stable as a car on the road,” said Dr. Schwegart.

He also added that their engineers observed it needed more speed than what they had anticipated during the take off and also has hard landing in some cases.

Maintenance levels

The Transition tank holds 23 gallons (87 litres) of fuel and requires Premium 91-octane fuel. It uses about 35 miles to gallon (6.7l/100km) on the road and 28 miles (8.4l/100km) in the air

Dr Schwegart said the discrepancy is because of the drag and nothing of concern.

The vehicle can be parked in a normal garage and needs roughly 1700- foot (520-metre) runaway to take off.

There are 5,000 state airports and another 5,000 private airports in the United States. As per company calculations, there are landing points every half an hour distance from take off points and apps like Foreflight will keep the drivers informed about the landing status.

“You just do your pre-flight checks, unfold your wings and away you go,” says Dr Schwegart.

Target Market

The increasing popularity has also increased the target audiences. Initially, it was limited to existing pilots but now Terrafugia intends reaching out to people with no aviation background.

According to the company representative, the vehicle offers an “advanced level of freedom in life, more efficiency in personal travel”.

The company already holds 100 pre-orders in its small production facility at Woburn, Massachusetts, which means it is fully booked for the next two to three years. However, the vehicle is still restricted by licensing terms to fly in the United States. The vehicle can make a theoretically non-domestic journey of 644 miles (1,035km) on a full tank.

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