Maybe I’ve just watched “Back to the Future” too many times but the latest design from Ma.-based Terrafugia, the maker of flying aircrafts that also work as cars, looks like all that’s missing is Doc and some plutonium. The next-gen TF-X will be a street legal plug-in hybrid car that has collapsible wings, retractable propellers, and is capable of driving and flying on its own in the event of an emergency.
When I talked to Terrafugia co-founder and CEO Carl Dietrich about the highly anticipated Transition, Terrafugia first street legal plane, four years ago, Dietrich said the fuel-efficient vehicle promised to both revitalize under-utilized regional airports and alleviate traffic congestion (video).
Just getting on a commercial airplane is tough enough these days, so it’s no surprise that Terrafugia has taken so long to navigate regulatory hurdles. Earlier this year, it cleared a major one when the FAA classified the Transition as a Light-Sport Aircraft, which means drivers don’t need a pilot’s license, just FAA certification in this category. While the company has been working on getting the Transition in the air, Terrafugia hasn’t stopped designing.
That’s where the TF-X plan comes in. Unlike the two-seater Transition, this new street-legal aircraft will seat four and run on electricity. That means the engine will recharge the batteries in the air or it could be plugged into a charging station on the ground. According to Terrafugia, the vehicle will also have electric ground drive and electric power assist for takeoff and landing.
Other cool features include retractable wings and the propellers that open from two motor pods. Initially the propellers point up for takeoff, then the motor pods tilt forward until the vehicle cruises and after that the propellers can fold in. The TF-X will have a non-stop flight range of at least 500 miles, and is expected to be able to automatically avoid other air traffic, bad weather, and restricted and tower-controlled airspace, according to the website, as well as implement an emergency auto-land at the nearest airport, if the operator became unresponsive. See more details in the Youtube video.
The vehicle will also have extensive safety features such as a parachute system to prevent it from crashing horribly should something go seriously wrong. Terrafugia indicated that learning how to safely operate the TF-X will take the average person five hours; a light-sport aircraft certification takes an additional 20 hours.
Before you get your hopes up, the TF-X will likely be in development for eight to 12 years and cost way, way more than a new car. According to the company, Transition owners will have the first shot at purchasing these vehicles when they do get produced. Nevertheless, I look forward to the day when we hear drivers turn to their passengers and say, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Image: A rendering of what the TF-X could look like in the future. Credit: Terrafugia