Video: Terrafugia Transition, the world's first street-legal airplane

Consumer Reports News: April 05, 2012 03:38 PM

Like other modern street-legal vehicles, the Terrafugia Transition includes such safety equipment as air bags for the driver and passenger, energy-absorbing crumple zone construction, a collapsible steering column, auto-tensioning seatbelts with force limiters, and a back-up camera.

But unlike most other street legal vehicles, the equipment list also includes a stowable floor-mounted control stick, an antiservo tab, electric pitch trim, and, patented, electro-mechanical folding wings. That's because the Terrafugia can fly, but the developers would prefer you not call it a flying car. It is billed as the world's first practical street-legal airplane.

And practical it is, with a sensible 100-hp engine said to be good for 35-mpg on the highway, disc brakes all around, a storage compartment big enough to swallow up a set of golf clubs, and a built-in airframe parachute.

The reason behind not wanting it called a flying car is that the Transition is designed not so much to be a car that flies, but as an airplane that can be driven to its destination if thunderstorms pop up. Its creators are quick to point out that because bad weather and small planes don't get along, this innovative ability vastly increases its practicality and makes an argument for having a personal aircraft in one's garage. And yes, the Terrafugia can fit in one.

Woburn, Mass., based Terrafugia chose the New York International Automobile Show to show its new plane because, they figured, it was likely to draw lots of attention from the media, the public, and those all important potential investors. And if the crowds elbowing each other for a better view during media days are any indication, they made the right call. The Transition was drawing more crowds than almost anything this side of the new SRT Viper. Of course, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology aerospace engineers behind Terrafugia are pretty smart folks. You don't always encounter actual rocket scientists at a car show.

Priced at $279,000, Terrafugia plans to begin deliveries by the end of the year, giving well-heeled adventures another way to hit the skies and road in style. And they can relax in the knowledge that if there's a problem, the airframe has a built-in parachute. But they may want another one for their clubs.

Jim Travers

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