Terrafugia takes flying cars to new heights

Chicago Tribune

Humans were dreaming about flight long before a couple of bicycle mechanic brothers made it a reality in 1903.

Now an American company hopes to take flight to the next dimension by putting it on roadways.

Terrafugia’s TF-X will let you pull out of your standard garage, find an open clearing, push a button and ascend above all your worries and traffic into the sky.

The Woburn, Mass.-based company with MIT-trained aerospace engineers has two models in development, the Transition fixed-wing plane and the TF-X plug-in hybrid.


The “first practical flying car,” according to Terrafugia, the street-legal Transition has wings that fold like a goose’s to fit in a typical single-car garage, allowing the vehicle to be driven down the road into and out of airports. It runs on unleaded automotive gasoline, and Terrafugia says the conversion is “comparable to putting down the top on your convertible.” It has a steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, a stick and rudder pedals for flight, and has been tested on the road and sky as recently as fall 2012. It’s expected to cost $279,000.

The Transition appears to have paved the runway for the development of the TF-X.

The TF-X is the stuff of sci-fi dreams, with wings that fold into the side and underbody when on the street, then open like gull wings tipped with twin rotors that launch it vertically into the sky. Pull out of your garage, find a clear level space 100 feet in diameter, push a button and the computer-controlled craft will take off.

Terrafugia estimates it takes about five hours to figure out how to safely operate the TF-X, which comes with automatic and manual modes. Prior to departure, the driver-pilot-operator enters a landing zone into navigation that we hope is much more advanced than current nav systems, then adds a few backup points just in case. If there’s not enough energy to land at the first, then the system will use the next nearest point, as long as there is a 30-minute reserve of energy. If the forecast is inhospitable or the energy-distance equation is off, the computer won’t let you depart. The driver-pilot can override a landing, and the computer will redirect to the nearest airport for a horizontal, or normal, airplane landing. Then there’s a full-vehicle parachute system if all else fails. Operation of the door-to-door TF-X sounds like a breeze.

It seats four and can be recharged from EV charging stations (and we expect a 240-volt home electricity charger). With a 500-mile range, it has double the range of even the best plug-in cars. That should ground range anxiety.

The stated mission of Terrafugia is to be the vanguard of the flying car industry, but it has some company.

A gallery in Popular Mechanics shows that flying cars have been in development for decades, for better or worse.

Last October we reported on AeroMobil, a Slovakian startup company that had been air testing its 3.0 prototype and seemed to be poised to be the first to reach market. But it crashed during testing May 8. The pilot, Stefan Klein, co-founder and inventor of AeroMobil, was able to eject himself to parachute safely from a height of about 900 feet as the flying car went into a tailspin before crashing, the U.K.'s Independent reported. The money lost on the prototype alone, not to mention the legal issues, surely set the company back.


Terrafugia, led by CEO and co-founder Carl Dietrich, has been prototype testing since 2007. The company was a subcontractor for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop concepts for a semi-autonomous, dual-mode vehicle for the U.S. military. Yet the TF-X has civilian ambitions.

“Designed to be the flying car for all of us,” the TF-X could be “on-par with very high-end luxury cars of today,” Terrafugia predicts. Pricing of the TF-X will not be known until much nearer delivery; development is estimated at eight to 12 years. The company is open to investors, and reservations for the Transition start with a $10,000 refundable deposit.

Twitter @DufferRobert