Will the Terrafugia flying-car be successful?


Wow. Johhny LA posted a link in another thread, and I have to admit that I am mightily impressed. The car has an estimated list price of $148,000 and they’re aiming at delivery in 2009. Basically, it’s a general aviation aircraft that folds up its wings and turns into a normally driving car with a capacity for two people. Another thing that caught my attention was the claimed gas mileage: 30 MPG in the air, 40 MPG on the highway!

Basically, I think that if they can make their claimed engineering goals, this craft really could be revolutionary. It’s expensive, yeah, but I see plenty of 7-series BMW’s that cost 75% of what this thing might cost on the road as is. I think the fact that you could take off and land at virtually any airport in the nation and then not have to worry about renting a car, etc. would be an enormous draw. I can see a lot of people that have fairly long commutes as is being drawn to this thing, even if they aren’t currently pilots.

You’d still have to gain a pilot’s license, which is not going to be easy.

I haven’t gotten round to reading the article yet. (I get AOPA Pilot.) But I did skim it. Seems like the biggest practical stumbling block is going to be on-road crashworthiness, as it will have to pass crashworthiness tests to be certified for road use. I don’t know what engine they’re using (as I said, I haven’t read about it yet), but 30 mpg in the air? :dubious: I think a Cessna 172 gets about 15 mpg with its 160 hp Lycoming. (Just popped over to the site briefly. It uses a Rotax. I have no experience with those.)

Pilots like performance. I think most pilots will choose a similarly-priced aircraft that goes faster and/or carries a greater payload. And I’m a little dubious about the projected price. The 172, which is a 50-year-old design, costs like 175 kilobucks or more; and it doesn’t have to be an airplane and a car.

If the Terrafugia comes to fruition, I expect they’ll sell a few. I like the idea of roadable aircraft. (I think Molt Taylor’s Aerocar was nifty.) But my gut feeling is that it fits into a very narrow niche, and that most pilots will opt for a traditional aircraft. Some pilots who fly to the same destination frequently, keep an ‘airport car’; usually a cheap car that they can park at their destination for use when they get there.

It’s certainly harder to get a pilot’s certificate than it is to get a driver’s license, and most pilots are proud of having earned one; but it’s not magic. One just needs a little dedication and desire.

I think that roadable aircraft will appeal to some pilots who want to drive, rather than to drivers who want to fly.

Here’s the story on Popular Science’s website.

Does anyone else remember Popular Science’s breathless coverage of the Flying Pinto back in the 70’s? As I recall the PS photos (or were they just illustrations?) showed the Pinto in bright orange. A brilliant solution to the “airport car” problem. Put flight controls in your bog standard Ford Pinto. Hack the cabin off the twin boom, rear engine Cessna Skymaster. Attach the airframe to the car with an easily detachable mounting system. Land, leave the airframe in the hanger, and drive away in the Pinto!

They’ve been trying to do this for years…

When I was a pilot we watched a 50’s clip about a flying car. Somehow the wings folded and the push prop got stored in the trunk or ??? the whole thing looked like a “Leave it to Beaver” episode where dad was coming home from work.

These things will never catch on…why would they? If you have enough bank for a $150,000 plane, then you can probably afford a car, too. Anything in-between can be covered by a helicopter.

The only time I believe these things will become viable is when at some point in the future they will fly themselves (some central traffic computer running their path). Then normal people can buy them and get to/from work faster and still have the ability to drive to the store for lunch. Until then, just a toy.


Absolutely not. Anything light enough to be a small airplane will be too light to make a decent roadable car. Anything strong enough to withstand the bumps and shocks of the road will wind up being too heavy to be a decent airplane.

The needs of airplanes and cars are so fundamentally different that any attempt to marry the two will lead to severe compromises.

And let’s talk about practicality. With the wings folded, you’ll have no visibility to the sides. A small fender bender will total the thing. Hell, a door rash from someone opening their car door into it could require a major inspection. Insuring this thing will be hellaciously expensive, if it’s possible at all. Every time you hit a big pothole and impart a big shock to the structure you’d have to do a serious inspection.

Totally impractical.

When I see planes like this, I always think ‘scam’. There are a few companies around that just love to put out computer renderings of their fantastic ‘in development’ aircraft, then rake in the bux selling videos, ‘info-packets’, and deposits. Then they fold up and go away and leave everyone high and dry. I don’t know if that’s what this is, but it’s got the flavor of one.

What’s the point of having a flying car if you have to drive it to & from the airport?

If you have to land and take off at the airport, what’s the advantage of driving your airplane? You might as well keep a small car at the airport. The only advantage to a “flying car” is if you could land it at work. And if you could do that, there’s no need to drive the thing.

The whole concept of “flying car” is a ridiculous one. There’s no such thing as a flying car. What there might be is an airplane you can also drive on the street. But an airplane you can drive sounds a lot stupider than a flying car, doesn’t it? A car that can fly sounds cool, an airplane you can drive on the freeway sounds ridiculous. If you can fly, why bother driving on the freeway? But driving to the airport, flying to another airport, then driving to work is a silly commute. What you want is to walk out the front door of your house, step into your flying machine, fly to work, and walk into the office.

Except there is no such machine.

I live on Vashon Island, near Seattle. Most people who live here commute by ferry. Except one guy, a local multimillionaire. He commutes by “flying car”. Except his flying car is a helicopter that he takes to his corporate headquarters and back every day. And that flying car requires a licenced pilot with an expensive salary, is incredibly expensive, takes an enormous amount of maintainence, is pretty dangerous (one trip isn’t dangerous, but two trips every day? Eventually you’ll roll snakeyes), pisses off the neighbors with the noise, and even though it’s VTOL it still takes a large helipad, you couldn’t land it in a typical suburban house.

And this is why there will never be such a thing as a flying car. A VTOL aircraft that can land at a suburban house and an office building. Maybe, maybe, nothing’s impossible. Except that VTOL aircraft won’t double as a car, if it can fly why would you drive it? In flight mode the roadable gear is parasitic weight, in drive mode the flight gear is parasitic weight. It just doesn’t make sense. If you need to fly and drive you’ll have a flying machine and a driving machine, not a convergent machine.

I totally agree. This thing looks like compete vaporware. How are they even possibly estimating the mileage?


You don’t have to be a millionaire to fly, but it helps. Actually, light aircraft are attainable by people with even modest means. I used to work with a guy in Orange, CA who lived in Big Bear (up in the mountains). He had a '66 (I think) Piper Cherokee 140 that he’d fly into Fullerton every day, and a jalopy he’d use for the drive into the office. Not a helicopter, but it flew. A homebuilt two-seat helicopter with a decent reputation runs about $60,000 (new kit you have to build, or a used one that’s built). 1960’s Cessna 150s (two-place fixed-wing aircraft) seem to be running under $20,000.

The larger problem with personal commuting by air is the weather. You don’t need to hire a pilot; just get your license. But be sure you’re Instrument rated, especially in places like Washington where the weather is often poor.

As for safety, aircraft are very safe when they are maintained according to regulations and the pilot is conscientious and current. A pilot might fly for a hundred years without a crash. Or he might crash on his first solo. There’s no guarantee of rolling snake-eyes during one’s flying career. (No guarantee you won’t, either. But one can increase one’s odds.) Full disclosure, though: My former coworker hung up his spurs when a friend crashed an airplane into a radio tower in instrument conditions and suffered fatal injuries.

This isn’t a good argument. Engineering issues aside, the concept of a roadable airplane makes a lot of sense. First, you can’t just take off in your neighborhood - there aren’t going to be runways close enough to your house that you could walk to the airplane, and noise abatement regulations would certainly disallow firing up an airplane or a helicopter in a residential neighborhood at 6 AM. So you still need some sort of ground transportation. With a roadable airplane, you could just drive out of the neighborhood to the nearest designated stretch of road long enough and clear enough to be marked as a takeoff zone (runway), and off you go into the sky. At your destination, you land on the nearest one, fold the wings, and drive the rest of the way.

Second, the key solution here is to inclement weather. Even jumbo jets don’t fly in extremely bad weather. For aviation to ever become a true mass-market transportation, you’d have to solve the weather problem or else every time you had a thunderstorm all transportation would come to a dead stop. But if you have a roadable aircraft, you can solve this problem. If the weather gets bad, the sky traffic just grounds itself and becomes road traffic. A great solution.

I’ve known people who keep a beater at two airports, fly in with a conventional plane, and then drive the beater from the airport. A $20,000 Cessna, two reliable $2000 cars, and you’ve got a point-to-point solution that’s virtually the same as having a flying car. Except when you’re in the air you are in a vehicle optimized for that, and when you’re on the ground you’re in a safe, strong vehicle with airbags. That seems to me to be a much better solution.

Hell, when you start looking at the cost of one of these things and the likely cost of insurance, you might as well just rent cars at your destination, and use your airplane between airports. It’d be a lot cheaper.

I agree.

My husband and I were talking about this the other day (we read the AOPA Pilot article). My first thought was “osprey”. No matter how hard they try with these hybrid designs, it seems they end up with a vehicle that combines the worst safety flaws of each. It seems a lot more practical to go with a safe small plane and a car at the airport.

My second thought was at the price you’ll have to pay for it, it had better be sexy, and it just ain’t. It looks awkward and it’s going to drive and fly slowly. And anyone willing to pay that price is not counting pennies at the fuel pump.

Just my 2 cents. A couple people will probably buy them for the novelty factor and drag them out to airshows from time to time, but they are going to have to come up with something that, well, looks a lot cooler than this little clunker. Yeah, it’s better than the flying Pinto, but it doesn’t say “Q designed me”.

A different angle to consider: operator safety.

People drive sick, tired, intoxicated (booo!), medicated, with little thought to the mechanical soundness of their vehicle, and often with divided attention. And when’s the last time you saw someone do a “pre-drive inspection” on their car?

Except for a few bad apples, well-trained pilots don’t do those things. They fly only when they are well, alert, free of violating medicines and substances, and after they have performed a thorough pre-flight systems and mechanical inspection of the aircraft. I sure as hell do things that way, and so does anyone else that I agree to fly with.

I shudder at the thought of those two worlds (driving/flying) ever coming together, because it’s unrealistic to think that the “daily flyer” would not begin to emulate the habits of the daily driver. Rushed, tired, unfocused, and sloppy. And all too often dead.

To ensure the flight safety of people operating hybrid car/planes, there would have to be rules in place that would make driving them impractical. It would add time, cost, and lifestyle restrictions. And if it isn’t practical, then what’s the point?


Right, which is why there’s no such thing as a flying car. What you could have is a roadable airplane. But whenever you fly that thing, you have to treat it as seriously as any other airplane flight. Groggy communters stumbling out the door with a travel mug of coffee in one hand might do OK driving to work. But they’re never going to be able to fly to work, it will be much too dangerous. And a roadable airplane is going to be a lot more dangerous to fly than a regular airplane, because it will have to carry all that parasitic wieght of the roadable gear.

And if the design is to remove the wings and leave them at the airport, well, what’s the point? What’s the savings compared to having an airplane and a car that you leave at the airport?

We already have flying cars. They are called light airplanes and helicopters. The fact that these flying cars don’t look like the Jetson’s flying car is irrelevant. The “flying” part is the important, dangerous part. We can make amphibious cars easily, so why doesn’t anyone have an amphibious car? Amphibious cars are pretty trivial to make, just waterproof and streamline the underside and add a propeller to the driveshaft. You see lots of people dragging their boats on trailers, but no amphibious cars.

And the reason is that an ambibious car is a piss poor car and a piss poor boat. People would rather have a good car and a good boat than one machine that can’t do either job well.

I really can’t see the transition from traditional ground transportation (personal) for the masses to air transportation (personal) for the masses anytime soon. I’d even go as far to say it won’t happen in the next 100 years.
Roads, road usage, and road systems have been around for centuries. It’s a system built for the masses and it works well. We tweak it with new and improved vehicles and road materials but it’s still a linear 2-dimensional network.
While aviation has made leaps and bounds over the past century and the air trafficing network is a modern miracle, going from 210,000 registered flying vehicles ziping around the U.S. to 243 million would be an uncontrollable nightmare.
There are so many hurdles to overcome (safety, noise, traffic control, etc.) and no one currently working on these hurdles that it’s going to be a pipedream for many many decades to come.

I can’t see it either. It’ll be both a crappy plane and a crappy car, made worse by staying under the 1320 pound weight limit for the LSA certification they plan. True, the promoters claim the car function is only for a few miles, from the airport to home/business, but if that’s a pilot’s regular route, it’s easy to just have a junky car at each end and fly a real plane instead.

So how do the Terrafugia people think they can pull it off? Because, per their “Why We Will Succeed?” essay, they’re just smarter than all the others who’ve tried and failed. :rolleyes: Interesting links, though.

This point should be kept in mind when discussing (specifically) the Terrafugia: It is not a flying car. It is not intended as Jetsons-style mass transportation – unlike the Moller Skycar/Volantor. It is an airplane intended to be flown by properly rated pilots, that is designed to be operated on roadways. It is a roadable aircraft and not a flying car.

Regardless of what it is, it’s too much of a compromise to sell more than a few units. If I had $148,000 I would buy a 30-year-old Cessna to fly in, park one of my cars at the frequent-destination airport, and use the other hundred grand for some really awesome home improvements.