Road-worthy plane? Or sky-worthy car?

Feb 03, 2009 David Chandler
The Transition® Roadable Light Sport Aircraft Proof of Concept with wings extended at Lawrence Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy / Terrafugia

( -- What began as an MIT student project has evolved into a working prototype of a two-seater airplane that can be quickly converted into a road-worthy car. The car-plane has begun test flights and is expected to go on sale next year. But at a price similar to that of a new Lamborghini, this is one car that you really don't want to get dinged in traffic.

"Flying cars" have been a science-fiction staple for decades, but have never made for a practical commercial product. The graduates of MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics think their plane, called the Transition, could change that. Featuring wings that fold out of the way at the touch of a button, it offers a solution for aviators flying to places where finding ground transportation may be difficult. The craft could also allow a pilot who encounters bad weather to simply land at a small airport and continue the trip by road.

The Transition® Roadable Light Sport Aircraft Proof of Concept runs on premium unleaded auto gas. Carl Dietrich, CEO/CTO is shown with the Transition®. Photo courtesy / Terrafugia

The plane is made from modern composite materials, uses an advanced airplane engine, but runs on ordinary unleaded automotive gasoline. With its wings folded, it can fit in an ordinary garage or parking space.

The alumni formed a new company, Terrafugia, to produce and market the vehicle -- which they prefer to call a "roadable plane" because it is primarily an airplane but can be converted into a roadworthy car. The company is taking advantage of a new licensing classification offered by the Federal Aviation Administration -- light sport aircraft -- to make the new plane possible.

The Woburn-based company was founded by CEO Carl Dietrich '99, SM '03, PhD '07, COO Anna Mracek Dietrich '04, SM '06, and VP of Engineering Samuel Schweighart SM '01, PhD '05 The group began working on the project while they were still at MIT, and won a prize for their plans in the 2006 $100KEntrepreneurship Competition.

Provided by MIT

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User comments : 11

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5 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2009
Eh, This isn't gnosis, its an amalgamation.

Give me an airplane and a car. This monstrosity fails at both.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 03, 2009
My prediction:
In early testing it will do a bad ground loop while attepting a cross-wind landing.

(The wings are too close to the ground.)
5 / 5 (3) Feb 03, 2009
My second prediction:
In early road testing it will have great difficulty near large trucks at highway speeds.

(1350 lbs is too light for today's highways, especially with all those large, flat surfaces.)
5 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
If you could afford this, you could probably afford a better car, and a better airplane.
5 / 5 (3) Feb 03, 2009
Cars at half the price look sexy.
Aircraft at half the price look sexy.

A single photography of this, er, carplane(?)is the perfect answer to anyone who thinks they can start a business without someone who has at least one marketing neuron in their head.
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2009
I love, in the first photograph, how the legitimate airplane in the background is covering its face in shame.

5 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
And, yeah, like you're gonna hand the keys to the valet...

Okay, quick, name one venue where you'd feel cool arriving and getting out...

5 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
Let's see, cars need to:
- Parrallel park
- Valet park
- Survive speed bumps and pot holes
- Have ice scraped from their windshields
- Have windshield wipers
- Have at least minimal bumpers (see points 1 & 2)
- Have rearview mirrors

Light Sport Aircraft need to:
- Have gross wt less than 1350 lb. (yeah, right)
- Be more aerodynamic than a '58 Renault
- Have a geometry that allows for safe landings
- Use fuel that is approved for aviation use

Lots of question marks here, wouldn't you say? Don't get me wrong, I'm just askin'. I've got my check ready right here.

Last Q: Where can I get a test drive?

4 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2009
from a 'distinguished'
lineage of similar concepts. I'd like to see the "transformer" idea pushed farther, like making it end up looking like an SUV. I know this would add weight (a lot), but think how cool it would be if it looked like a plausible road vehicle! That would definately help marketing. Make everything 'retractable' (including wheels during flight) On the other hand, perhaps vertical control surfaces could be used to aid in highway stability of this version.
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
This seems unlikely to succeed for both the reasons listed below, and also because the only people who would be allowed to "pilot" these things would be... pilots! The would need the standard stack-o-licenses the FAA requires, as well as the requisite regular physicals, drug tests, etc. I can't imagine anyone who would be in the target market for one of these things not just buying, as a previous poster suggested, a better car and a better light aircraft - for the same price or less.
not rated yet Feb 20, 2009
Dozer, the new hoby licence might actually cover this with reduced airtime and training restrictions making it a viable "plane" for people who don't have the time/desire to go flying with other people. that said it's still uglier than sin. did someone pass a new law that new small aircraft have to look like ass? To see a hybrid sportplane done right check out the Icon A5, granted it's aquatic not roadworthy. While I do agree that the hybrid idea often fails simply because a good car has downward liftforces and a good plane has upward lift, but the other side is a short small airport to small airport jump say from where ever you are to the coast to enjoy a sunny day at the beach becomes a much simpler task and you don't have to rent a car when you get there.

Still Fugly plane, go back to the drawing board. It looks like a bumper car and a glider tried to reproduce while using drugs and eating mercury.

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