Terrafugia Unveils New TF-X Project, Talks Future of Flying Cars

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“It’s an eight-to-10-year process,” Dietrich says, “but we believe it’s possible to increase the level of safety while simultaneously making it easier to operate an aircraft.”

At least one outside expert seems intrigued by the concept of TF-X. Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, calls it “novel and exciting.” He adds that “the global authorities have been working to adapt regulations for future products such as the TF-X.”

If Terrafugia can meet those safety requirements, that could lead to a cascade of effects. If private planes are safer and easier to operate, Dietrich says, “we can put it within reach of a much broader segment of the population. Doing that, we open up the market.” With more demand, he says, the company (and others) could potentially use different manufacturing techniques, costs could go down, and the vehicle’s price tag could go down, further opening the market.

The potential impact on the economy? Dietrich quotes a study that says 127 million U.S. commuters spend 52 minutes a day in their cars driving at an average speed of 17 miles per hour. He says if all of them (hypothetically) commuted via TF-X, it would effectively inject $800 billion a year into the national economy, in terms of wages and productivity.

Meanwhile, the wait continues for the company’s first product, Transition (pictured in flight), to roll out. Dietrich’s team is currently consumed with what seem like minor details—how the airbags deploy, the exact position of the engine in the craft, and so forth. But it’s these details, he hopes, that will lead the vehicle to exceed customer expectations once it’s in their hands. And from there, maybe for the first time in a while, Dietrich seems completely convinced of the company’s bigger vision—and its roadmap to get there.

“It provides a new freedom that doesn’t exist today,” he says. “This sort of thing has the potential to be disruptive to personal transportation, to the automotive as well as the aviation industry.”

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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