New design unveiled for Terrafugia flying car

A successful test flight of a prototype Terrafugia vehicle has led to structural improvements just unveiled. The company hopes to start shipping late next year.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
Don't let Elroy take it for a joyride: The Terrafugia Transition flying car parked outside a suburban home under blue skies. The future? Terrafugia

Terrafugia, a developer of "roadable aircraft"--otherwise known as flying cars--released a scale model and computer-generated mockups of its redesigned "Transition" vehicle on Monday that the company says bring it a step closer, engineering-wise, to a deliverable product late next year.

The design tweaks, Terrafugia explained, were based on the results of a successful test flight last year at Plattsburgh International Airport in New York. Some of the improvements include a touch-screen cockpit interface and better-optimized wings with a new folding mechanism that helps them retract for road driving. It'll still run on gas station fuel and be able to be driven at highway speed and hit 115 miles per hour in the air.

Founded by MIT-bred engineers in 2006, the company also got a big boost earlier this year when the Federal Aviation Administration granted Terrafugia, which means "escape from land" in Latin, a weight exemption that allows it to be 110 pounds heavier than the normal maximum for light sport aircraft, meaning that it'll be able to have road essentials installed on board like airbags and a structural cage.

These automotive-style crash safety features have been worked into the new design, which is currently being developed in full at Terrafugia's Woburn, Mass. headquarters. It's expected to cost slightly south of $200,000, but questions remain about the viability of a flying car on the roads and in the skies. For one, there are plenty of certification and safety hurdles that it'll have to surmount first.

""We're not going to have a flying car, as people think of it, for a while," Terrafugia Chief Operating Officer Anna Dietrich said in a Computerworld interview last year. "I would never say it's not going to happen, but today, the infrastructure is not there, nor is the training, nor are the avionics that would make the training unnecessary. What makes sense right now is a 'roadable' aircraft."

The Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) division has expressed desire for the existence of a flying car, but Terrafugia's Transition doesn't make the cut--it requires a runway to take off, something that the Pentagon has ruled out.