Terrafugia 'flying cars' could go on sale in 2011

Having found a new manufacturing home, company says its "flying car" could go into low-volume production late next year with a price range of $200,000 to $250,000.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
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Be the first on your block to get the Terrafugia 'flying car.'
Be the first on your block to get the Terrafugia 'flying car.' Terrafugia

After several years in development, Terrafugia's "flying car" could be available for sale before the end of next year.

Setting up shop in its new manufacturing plant in Woburn, Mass., Terrafugia is aiming for low-volume production of its "flying car," or Transition Roadable Aircraft, as early as late 2011, the company announced Wednesday.

For the longer haul, plans for high-volume production are uncertain and would depend on how well low-volume manufacturing goes. In the general aviation industry, low volume is typically tens or dozens of aircraft each year, while high volume can reach the mid-hundreds, according to Terrafugia.

Terrafugia is currently building two prototypes of the Transition in the new plant. One is scheduled to go through extensive drive testing, while the other will take to the skies to obtain certification as a light sport aircraft. The company will determine the price of the vehicle based on the time and expense creating the prototypes. But once the Transition hits the market, it's likely to sell for between $200,000 and $250,000.

Eager early adopters have already been reserving spots to buy the aircraft during its first two or three years of production. Terrafugia is still taking reservations with a $10,000 refundable deposit.

The company is optimistic about the future now that it has set roots down in its new plant.

"We can get to positive net income and be self-sustaining in a relatively short time here," CEO Carl Dietrich said in a statement. "There are still many options to continue our growth in the future, but this move lets us lay a solid foundation for Terrafugia's future today."

Formed in 2006 by a team of students from MIT, Terrafugia, which means "escape from land" in Latin, took the Transition on its maiden flight just last year.

But people who envision flying something out of "Back to the Future" or "The Jetsons" may be a bit disappointed. Though the Transition has earned the label of "flying car" in the press, it's more accurately described as a small, personal plane that you can park in your garage and drive on the highway or to the airport for takeoff. And it looks more like an SUV with retractable wings than Doc Brown's retrofitted DeLorean of the future.

As with other small aircraft, a pilot's license and knowledge of airspace charts are needed to fly it. The Transition is vulnerable to certain weather conditions, meaning it can't fly in heavy crosswinds, shouldn't go up on cloudy days without an instrument flight plan, and should stay firmly on the ground during thunderstorms. The Transition also can't perform VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), so like a conventional plane, it needs a runway to lift off.

Even Terrafugia has acknowledged that the flying car of science fiction fame is still a ways off.

"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."

Updated 2 p.m. PDT with explanation from Terrafugia on low-volume versus high-volume production.