Plane You Can Drive Transcript
What is it about flying cars? We've wanted to do this for about a hundred years. And there are historic attempts that have had some level of technical success. But we haven't yet gotten to the point where on your way here this morning you see something that really, truly seamlessly integrates the two-dimensional world that we're comfortable in with the three-dimensional sky above us -- that, I don't know about you, but I really enjoy spending time in.
We looked at the historical attempts that had been out there and realized that, despite the fact that we have a lot of modern innovations to draw on today that weren't available previously -- we have modern composite materials, we have aircraft engines that get good fuel economy and have better power-to-rate ratios than have ever been available, we have glass cockpit avionics that bring the information you need to fly directly to you in the cockpit -- but without fundamentally addressing the problem from a different perspective, we realized that we were going to be getting the same result that people had been getting for the last hundred years, which isn't where we want to be right now. So instead of trying to make a car that can fly, we decided to try to make a plane that could drive.
And the result is the Terrafugia Transition. It's a two-seat, single-engine airplane that works just like any other small airplane. You take off and land at a local airport. Then once you're on the ground, you fold up the wings, drive it home, park it in your garage. And it works. After two years of an innovative design and construction process, the proof of concept made its public debut in 2008.
It turns out that driving, with its associated design implementation and regulatory hurdles, is actually a harder problem to solve than flying. For those of us that spend most of our lives on the ground, this may be counter-intuitive, but driving has potholes, cobblestones, pedestrians, other drivers and a rather long and detailed list of federal motor vehicle safety standards to contend with. Fortunately, necessity remains the mother of invention, and a lot of the design work that we're the most proud of with the aircraft came out of solving the unique problems of operating it on the ground -- everything from a continuously-variable transmission and liquid-based cooling system that allows us to use an aircraft engine in stop-and-go traffic, to a custom-designed gearbox that powers either the propeller when you're flying or the wheels on the ground, to the automated wing-folding mechanism that we'll see in a moment, to crash safety features. We have a carbon fiber safety cage that protects the occupants for less than 10 percent of the weight of a traditional steel chassis in a car.
Now this also, as good as it is, wasn't quite enough. The regulations for vehicles on the road weren't written with an airplane in mind. So we did need a little bit of support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Now you may have seen in the news recently, they came through with us at the end of last month with a few special exemptions that will allow the Transition to be sold in the same category as SUVs and light trucks. As a multi-purpose passenger vehicle, it is now officially "designed for occasional off-road use."
Now since we started Terrafugia about 6 years ago, we've had a lot of those baby steps. We've gone from being three of us working in the basement at MIT while we were still in graduate school to about two-dozen of us working in an initial production facility outside of Boston. We've had to overcome challenges like keeping the weight below the light sport limit that I talked about, figuring out how to politely respond when a regulator tells you, "But that won't fit through a toll booth with the wings extended -- to all of the other associated durability and engineering issues that we talked about on the ground. Still, if everything goes to our satisfaction with the testing and construction of the two production prototypes that we're working on right now, those first deliveries to the, about a hundred, people who have reserved an airplane at this point should begin at the end of next year.
The Transition will cost in line with other small airplanes. And I'm certainly not out to replace your Chevy, but I do think that the Transition should be your next airplane. Here's why. While nearly all of the commercial air travel in the world goes through a relatively small number of large hub airports, there is a huge underutilized resource out there. There are thousands of local airstrips that don't see nearly as many aircraft operations a day as they could. On average, there's one within 20 to 30 miles of wherever you are in the United States. The Transition gives you a safer, more convenient and more fun way of using this resource.
For those of you who aren't yet pilots, there's four main reasons why those of us who are don't fly as much as we'd like to: the weather, primarily, cost, long door-to-door travel time and mobility at your destination. Now, bad weather comes in, just land, fold up the wings, drive home. Doesn't matter if it rains a little, you have a windshield wiper. Instead of paying to keep your airplane in a hanger, park it in your garage. And the unleaded automotive fuel that we use is both cheaper and better for the environment than traditional avgas. Door-to-door travel time is reduced, because now, instead of lugging bags, finding a parking space, taking off your shoes or pulling your airplane out of the hanger, you're now just spending that time getting to where you want to go. And mobility to your destination is clearly solved. Just fold up the wings and keep going.
The Transition simultaneously expands our horizons while making the world a smaller, more accessible place. It also continues to be a fabulous adventure. I hope you'll each take a moment to think about how you could use something like this to give yourself more access to your own world, and to make your own travel more convenient and more fun.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share it with you.
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