First Flight Brings Terrafugia “A New Level of Credibility,” Says CEO Dietrich

3/18/09Follow @wroush

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as long a runway as possible. Ideally we would be out on the salt flats in southern California. But we can’t afford to haul the whole team out to southern California to do testing.

X: So these are really long runways.

CD: These are two-mile-long runways. This is like an alternative landing site for the space shuttle. We can take off, go down the runway a mile, and then land it. And at any time we can set it down. So it’s ideal from that perspective, because it just gives us a lot more freedom to do whatever we need to do. It’s also nice because there is not a lot of traffic at that airport. There are a few scheduled flights each day, but it’s not like testing at Logan or Hanscom or anything like that. Even Hanscom is crazy busy, there’s no way we could test there.

So the FAA, when they—it’s a back and forth thing with the FAA. When they give you an airworthiness certificate at the beginning for an experimental aircraft, they put restrictions, geographic restrictions, on where you can do your test flying, because the vehicle is unproven. And so right now the vehicle is restricted to operate within a 50 or 100 nautical mile radius of Plattsburgh, and we have a couple of other alternative airports that we can go to. Once we have flown enough hours on the aircraft, and we have mitigated the risks sufficiently that the FAA agrees, they will say, “Okay, we will lift those restrictions.” And then you could fly to Hanscom, or you could fly to Oshkosh, or whatever, and do a big show. Right now, we don’t know when that’s going to be yet. It’s too early. We haven’t even looked at all the data we’ve gotten back from these latest test flights.

X: And this is all new—you’re having to negotiate these understandings from scratch, basically.

CD: Exactly. So it’s a process and we’re taking each step at a time. But we are reasonably confident. We have already started designing the next prototype, and we’re reasonably confident we can have that one flying by the end of 2010. And that one may be the one that goes through the certification testing program. This one is not. This one is just for us to learn lessons from. The next one may be. It will certainly go through the test program, and then depending on the results of that test program, we may do one more prototype, or the next product may be the first delivery.

X: So this is the plane that flew, or is this a prototype?

CD: This is the plane that flew. This is the only one that exists right now.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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