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Terrafugia

Flying cars. Seriously.

Highlights

1
$30 million in orders
2
2 production-ready prototypes built
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9 MIT degrees, including 2 Ph.D.'s
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123 years combined aeronautical engineering experience

Our Team

CEO/CTO
Carl earned his BS, MS and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, where he was selected as winner of the Lemelson-MIT Student Innovation Award.
Anna Mracek Dietrich COO
Anna received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. Worked at GE Aviation and Boeing Phantom
Samuel Schweighart Cofounder, Technical Fellow
Sam received his MS and Ph.D. from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and hold his BS from the University of Illinois.

Pitch

We were promised flying cars. Instead, we got 140 characters. Why are we not working on more big problems? The last generation went to the moon. Their parents started Hoover Dam before they knew it was even possible to finish it. Why don't we do anything hard these days?

Do we still have the "right stuff"?

If building a flying car is a good indicator, Terrafugia has "it" in spades. After a century of failure, it takes some brass balls to tell people - with a straight face - that you intend to build an automobile that flies. But, after six years and $10 million dollars (about 1/4 of the amount invested in Color), Terrafugia is on the brink of delivering their first product.

The first version - the Transition - is more "roadable airplane" than "flying car", but it's a start. Two prototypes have been built. Over 100 people have advance-ordered them, and it's expected to ship in 2015, FAA willing.

But the Transition is just the start. Terrafugia is determined to bring us the Jetson-car that we've been promised for over a half-century. Vertical takeoff, 200 miles per hour, complete end-to-end auto-pilot... that's Terrafugia's goal over the next decade. Sure, it's a very risky investment... but it's hard to bet against these guys.

The Birth of Terrafugia

Carl Dietrich grew up in the 1980s fascinated by the Space Shuttle and stories of Apollo. He expected to dedicate his life to NASA working on ambitious aerospace projects, but he was destined to be disappointed.


During his first summer as an undergrad at MIT, Carl got an internship at NASA Ames Research Center. He was thrilled to be working at NASA, but became disillusioned when the project he was assigned to was cancelled-- and its manager told him that the team that would continue working on it anyway because it was in the budget. "This is stupid," Carl remembers thinking, "This isn't going anywhere." He came to the conclusion that shifting priorities at NASA due to political whims made it no longer capable of accomplishing big things.

In 1998, Carl founded the MIT Rocket Team, a student club that soon attracted Andrew Heafitz (Terrafugia VP of Engineering) and Sam Schweighart (Co-Founder and Technical Fellow) as early members. In 2003, Anna Mracek (now Anna Mracek Dietrich, Co-Founder and COO) joined the Rocket Team and started asking questions about the group's schedule and budget. No one had done this before, so she was promptly voted president.

With the FAA's introduction of the Light-Sport Aircraft category in 2004, Carl, Anna, and Sam began thinking that building a flying car might be possible in the new regulatory environment. While studying the feasibility, Carl completed his PhD in Aeronautical Engineering at MIT in 2006 and won that year's Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Only one of those is awarded per year. It's a pretty big deal.

Carl's prize money enabled him to pursue Terrafugia while Anna went to work at GE Aviation and Sam went to Draper Labs. Carl initially tried to find support for a flying car from an aerospace company, but found them unwilling to tackle such an ambitious project. He realized that if it was going to happen, he needed to do it himself. He tried to raise investment from VC firms, but they wanted returns within 5 years-- a time scale far too short. Instead, he pieced together several rounds of angel funding along with a DARPA research contract to take the company to where it is today.

In late 2006, Carl secured the first external investment that enabled him to bring the band back together. Sam, and Andrew joined Terrafugia full-time in 2007, Anna in 2008, and they expanded their team of visionary braniacs to make the dream of the flying car real. In 2009, the first prototype car flew into the air.

Transition: The Plane that Drives

Fast forward to today. Terrafugia's first product, the Transition, is a two-seater folding-wing aerocar that is designed to comply with both highway and flight safety regulations. It flies 400 miles per tank in 4 hours, fits in a single-car garage, and takes ordinary premium unleaded gasoline. And unlike with traditional small airplanes, you can learn and be licensed to fly it (in daylight and good weather) in as little as 20 hours.

The Transition is the first airplane ever that can convert between flying and driving in less than one minute and is designed to meet both FAA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. This was not an easy problem to solve, but the combination affords unprecedented flexibility. You can park it in your garage, which means no hangar fees and no time spent changing modes; just drive it onto the airstrip and take off, then drive to your destination on the other end. Folding and unfolding the wings is like raising and lowering an automatic convertible top.

The automobile industry has been advancing safety technology for decades, with proven systems that include airbags, safety cage / crumple zone designs, pre-tensioning seatbelts, and crash testing. To make the Transition street-legal, Terrafugia brought these mature technologies to aviation for the first time. And the Transition's innovative safety cage is made from lightweight carbon fiber rather than metal, to save weight.

The Transition's 4-wheel configuration makes it more stable on takeoff and landing than a typical 3-wheel plane, and for additional safety, the plane comes equipped with a full airframe parachute. But the Transition's greatest safety feature of all may be psychological: Pilots know that they can always just drive, so they'll tend to land rather than stay aloft in bad weather.

In the air, the Transition cruises at 100mph, gets 20mpg mileage, and has a 400 mile range-- and because you travel in a straight line rather than following roads, and you encounter no traffic, its speed, economy, and range can seem even better. For typical trips between 100 and 400 miles, whether covering territory for work, traveling for pleasure, or making an unexpected emergency visit, the Transition will take you farther faster.

Technical Overview

In addition to its state-of-the-art safety features, the Transition is enabled by other new technologies: carbon fiber composites; aluminum block aircraft engines; inexpensive MEMS accelerometers and gyros; and glass cockpits with synthetic vision systems (SVS), moving map GPS, and digital weather and traffic data that make piloting easier and smarter.

The Transition® can convert between airplane and car modes in seconds.

Terrafugia’s flight test team reviews test objectives prior to every flight.

The Transition's Rotax 912 iS engine has the highest power density and lowest specific fuel consumption of any proven, certified, four-stroke aircraft engine, thanks to its combination of a lightweight aluminum block with tight tolerances and Nikasil cylinder liners. This engine runs on premium auto gas, has a 2000-hour Time Between Overhaul (TBO), and a built-in gearbox that lets the pistons and crankshaft run faster, for greater power density.

Located behind the cabin, the engine drives a 3' carbon fiber driveshaft that runs back to a gearbox in front of the plane's rear-mounted propeller. In flying mode, the gearbox engages the prop, and in drive mode it meshes with a right-angle shaft that runs a continuously-variable transmission, like a snowmobile or ATV transmission. This in turn connects via belt drive to the differential that drives the Transition's rear wheels.

On the highway, the Transition gets 35mpg, and its 23 gallon tank gives it a range of 800 miles. Terrafugians like to note that in regulatory terms, the Transition is classified as a “multipurpose passenger vehicle” -- which means that it's "designed for occasional off-road use."

TF-X: The Jetson Car We Were Promised

The Transition is Terrafugia's first product and the company's primary, obsessive focus today. But Carl has started to design the TF-X, a program that will literally transform personal transportation. The Transition requires an airstrip for takeoff and landing, but the TF-X will be able to take off and land vertically from almost anywhere that's flat and open. It is designed to carry a family of four at over 200 mph at a level of safety that exceeds modern automobiles. And yes, it will drive down the road and fit in your garage.

In the U.S., car commuters today spend an average of 52 minutes per day driving at just 17 mph-- and these numbers are getting worse. By saving this lost time, a TF-X-like flying car would effectively inject $800 billion per year back into the economy. In the TF-X world, flying cars will provide the same door-to-door convenience that automobiles do today, except that the roads will be in the air and not on the ground. A pilot could walk out of his front door at 8am on Monday morning in Boston, and open the door to a board meeting in Manhattan just 1 hour later

Press the "Fly" Button

The TF-X will be a computer controlled “fly-by-wire” vehicle, enabling safe operation with much less training than is required for today’s private planes. Terrafugia plans to create an “AutoFly™” system that will be initially rolled out on Transition and then incorporated into TF-X. Driverless cars have already navigated real city traffic in tests, and autonomous flying drones have gone from million dollar DARPA research to weekend R/C hobbyist projects, thanks to things like quadcopters, Ardupilot, and cheap ranging sensors and GPS modules.

The FAA is developing a NextGen Air Traffic Control system that will let every aircraft in the sky know where every other aircraft is-- effectively giving each cockpit the breadth and depth of information that's now only aggregated at the control tower. So it's not much of a leap to assume that this technology may enable the TF-X, and other aircraft, to pilot themselves from takeoff to touchdown-- map and follow their routes while keeping out of anyone else's airspace. TF-X is designed to deliver on the promise of the 21st century flying car.


Risks & Rewards

Do you want to be a part of bringing the world's first commercially viable flying car to market? You should know what you are getting into.

Trying to build a practical flying car is usually a mark of insanity. No one has ever succeeded... and building it is only half of the battle. There's a risk that FAA regulations will delay the launch of the Transition until the company is bled dry of capital. There's also no guarantee the Transition will be sold at enough volume for the company to be successful.

But it's indisputable that a flying car should exist, and, given enough resources, the Terrafugia team has the MIT pedigree and aeronautical experience to make it happen. If you are comfortable with a long-term and very risky investment, then this is a chance to be apart of something that may inspire the growth of an entire new industry.

Overview