In Defense of the Drivable Airplane—Terrafugia CEO Responds to Legions of Doubters
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bring the entire vehicle down if you’re in a bad scenario, but we’re designing the vehicle with safety cages and crumple zones. So we are doing more for survivability than probably any other light aircraft out there, because we are absolutely building it for driving on the road. We believe we are pioneering a lot of new ground in terms of light-sport aircraft.
In addition to that, there’s the fact that the vehicle lands at a relatively slow speed compared with other aircraft. It stalls at 45 knots. That’s about 52 miles per hour. In an emergency landing, you can touch down at that speed. If you are touching down on an unimproved field, it’s not going to be comfortable, but the safety cage is designed to take the impact of the entire vehicle slamming into a brick wall at that speed and remain intact around the occupants.
X: With the soaring cost of aviation fuel, isn’t this a lousy time to be marketing a new gas-guzzling private plane?
CD: It would be, if we were selling a gas-guzzling vehicle, and if we were selling a vehicle that ran on aviation fuel. But we are selling a vehicle that uses super-unleaded automobile gas, and that will get about 27.5 miles per gallon flying at 115 miles per hour, which is better mileage than most cars get on the highway right now, and at nearly twice the speed. So from a fuel-economy perspective, it’s actually one of the greenest planes out there. And the Transition is such a light vehicle that the mileage should be quite good on the road. We are expecting between 30 and 40 miles per gallon.
X: With avgas so expensive these days, a lot of pilots are flying less, and are getting rusty—so it’s a dangerous time to be putting them in small planes.
CD: It’s a good point that gas prices are going up and causing pilots to fly their vehicles less. But because the Transition uses super-unleaded automobile gas, you should be able to fly more often than you would if you were using normal avgas, because it’s like driving your car, only with better gas mileage. The second thing I would suggest is that if you own a Transition, you are likely to fly more often and stay more current than you would in another aircraft, because it’s sitting in your driveway or your garage and you might just take it to Nantucket, and once you get there you can drive it around the island. Chances are you will use this vehicle more often than you would your normal plane, because you know if bad weather came you could still get home. Though if you were on Nantucket, you might have to take the ferry.
CD: There is definitely a degree of truth to that. Anytime you are making a dual-use vehicle, you do implicitly make compromises. But every vehicle out there has compromises. The question is what is the mission of the vehicle, and is there a market for a vehicle with those compromises? Yes, it is possible to make a higher-performance airplane than the Transition. And of course it’s possible to make a higher-performance car than the Transition. But neither that airplane nor that car will accomplish the mission that the Transition can accomplish.
What you need to ask is, is it possible to build a higher-performance roadable aircraft? That’s what we would compare ourselves against. And there is clearly a market for roadable aircraft. Back in 1968, Moult Taylor got 278 deposits for his Aerocar. From an aircraft sales perspective, that is a very encouraging number that shows significant demand. We can make a lot of money on a niche product that has a very particular role.
X: The Transition will be so light and will have such a large side-facing surface area that crosswinds will blow it off the road. If you take it across the Mackinac Bridge, you’re going to end up in Lake Michigan.
CD: Technically, there is some validity to the point. When we started down this path we looked at this a lot, and it turns out that roughly two percent of days—or seven days a year—it is windy enough that it would probably be a bad idea to go driving in this vehicle. And we will have clearly laid-out guidelines in our pilots’ operating handbook for when you should not consider taking this vehicle out. But pilots are used to those sorts of constraints on their operation. Many pilots, myself included, are not instrument-rated, meaning it’s not legal for me to … Next Page »