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“They’re doing some interesting things,” says Mitch LaBiche, an engineer at LaBiche Aerospace, a company based in Alvin, TX, that has assisted the military in the construction of a wide variety of flying vehicles, from the F-117 to the Apache AH-64 helicopter. LaBiche’s company is now working to build a flying sports car called the FSC-1. “[The Transition] is a light sports aircraft, so they’re going to have to work hard to meet the weight requirements,” LaBiche says.

The greatest nontechnical challenge Terrafugia must face is meeting the regulatory requirements of both the FAA and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). To satisfy FAA regulations for the category of light sports aircraft, the Transition must have a maximum level speed of 138 miles per hour, a one- or two-person occupancy, and fixed landing gear, among other things. For the NHTSA, the Transition must be able to pass the same requirements that a regular car would.

“There are systems in place with both organizations to make working with them as painless as possible,” Dietrich says. “It is still a lot to go through, but we’ve made inroads with both, especially the FAA.”

The company plans to build and sell between 50 and 200 Transitions a year, most likely starting in 2009, and it’s marketing the vehicle to the roughly 600,000 licensed pilots in the United States. The Transition will be comparable in size to a Cadillac Escalade but won’t be nearly as heavy. Terrafugia plans to charge $148,000 per vehicle.

“Very interesting! I would love to have one,” says Kenny Huffine, a pilot for a major commercial airline who flies recreationally. “My one concern, though, is about having a plane parked around other cars. If it were pushed or damaged, would that make it unflyable and dangerous?”

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Credit: Benjamin Schweighart and Terrafugia, Inc.

Tagged: Computing, MIT, automobiles, aeronautics

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