Anna Mracek Dietrich sums up her company’s research in two words: flying car. “Folks come up to me at trade shows and say, ‘You know this is impossible, right?’” she says.
Terrafugia, the company she cofounded with her husband, Carl Dietrich ’99, SM ’03, PhD ’07, has created the Transition Roadable Aircraft, which can use any surface road with the wings stowed and then deploy them from inside the cockpit for liftoff. Carl Dietrich, who serves as Terrafugia’s CEO, won the 2006 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Innovation for developing the concept. The couple, who both studied aerospace engineering, met while working on the MIT Rocket Team.
“Personal-aviation pilots dream of a flying car,” says Mracek Dietrich, an avid pilot herself. “There’s no need for checking bags, parking, or a rental car. You don’t even need to warm up the engine. It’s complete integration of land and air travel.”
The Transition is classified as a light sport aircraft and runs on unleaded automotive gasoline. She expects it to get 35 miles per gallon on the road and slightly less in the air; it weighs roughly 1,400 pounds, stretches almost 27 feet wide with wings outstretched, and has an anticipated price of $279,000. The first deliveries to buyers are scheduled for late 2012.
The company’s beginning was an all-MIT affair: the Dietrichs founded it with Samuel Schweighart, SM ’01, PhD ’04; Arun Prakash, MBA ’07; and Alex B. Min ’91, MBA ’07. Roughly half of Terrafugia’s current 20-person workforce graduated from the Institute. Mracek Dietrich managed the company’s early financial modeling and planning and serves as COO and acting CFO. Before devoting her full efforts to Terrafugia, she worked at Boeing Phantomworks in St. Louis and GE Aviation in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Mracek Dietrich set her sights on the skies in childhood. “My grandfather was chief of design at McDonnell Douglas, which is now Boeing,” she says. “He worked on the manned-spaceflight programs, and he came home with amazing stories of things that flew. He literally put the stars in my eyes.”
Mracek Dietrich says MIT gave her the confidence to push forward with a research goal that others before her had failed to meet.
“The MIT attitude is any problem is solvable,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how long other people have worked on it. It’s still worth taking a shot.”