Feeds

Terrafugia Transition flying car redesign - first analysis

Crash protection robs lardo pilots of golf clubs

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Weigh more than 180lb? No golf clubs or passengers for you, fatty

The road-safety kit could also be useful in flight mode, however. The new Transition is to feature an emergency parachute intended to bring it down safely in the event even of some massive disaster such as the wings coming off.

Forced landing by parachute isn't always that brilliant an idea if it's possible to make a rolling glide landing, especially if there's a strong wind blowing. A glide landing made into wind - the recommended procedure - can often deliver a much lower ground speed on touchdown, meaning a better result for aircraft, passengers and any nearby property.

By contrast, an emergency parachute landing on a blustery day means the aircraft hitting while moving across the ground quite literally like the wind and descending fairly fast to boot. But it demands much less skill from the pilot, and it still works even if the wings, tail and/or controls have fallen off. And a Transition, unlike pretty much any other light aircraft, will offer useful car-style protection which is designed for crashes in this speed range.

Terrafugia "expects the Transition® will prove itself to be one of the safest [Light Sport Aircraft] in the world", says the company.

That's all well and good - but there's a fair bit in the story so far to make prospective Transition buyers think hard.

First and worst, Terrafugia hasn't actually been able to accomplish the redesign within the FAA's extra weight margin. The Transition was originally supposed to offer useful load (that is, allowance for fuel and payload) of 550lb. Even that was a bit tight, as a full tank of unleaded weighs more than 120lb: two hefty occupants wouldn't be able to take any significant luggage on a fully-fuelled takeoff.

Following the redesign, despite the elbow room offered by the feds, useful load has been cut to 460lb, leaving as little as 330lb for passenger, pilot and bags. Terrafugia boldly advertises that the "cargo area holds golf clubs", but this could easily be a matter of 50lb or more: even a moderately-hefty 13 stone (180lb) golfer wishing to take off fully fuelled would probably have to travel solo in order to take his clubs with him.

All in all, for a lot of people, the Transition is beginning to look more like a single-seat rather than a two-seat aircraft, and there may yet be more weight gains on the horizon as the new design is built. Terrafugia might be well advised to simply abandon the struggle to stay within light-sport certification limits and accept that its customers will need normal private pilot's licences: plenty of people have these, after all.

Then there's the awkward fact that Transitions were supposed to be delivered last year, a forecast that has now slipped to "late 2011". Extrapolating from past history it will take Terrafugia three years, not one, to bring delivery day 12 months forward into the present - so actual deliveries could easily be as late as 2013.

Quite apart from disappointing customers, this sort of delay burns up money. Terrafugia says it has an order book of $18m, but that may not be enough to recoup development costs incurred over as much as seven years and two designs - and more orders could be hard to win for a driveable plane that can in many cases only carry one person.

The Transition's many advantages remain, of course: the ability for normal pilots without instrument ratings to simply drive under bad weather and restricted airspace is a unique selling point, as is the joyful prospect of simply landing and driving onward out of the airport gates rather than faffing with hangar or tiedown space, hire cars or taxis etc.

The Transition remains a very cool idea and we here on the Reg flying-car desk wish it well, but we have to say that prospects look less rosy than they did a few years back. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.