Terrafugia, whose Transition flying car is nearing production, is already working on a follow-up model that can largely fly itself.
The Woburn, Mass., company said it finished static-load testing on a scale model of the wing it plans to use on the TF-X, a flying car that can take off vertically and fly with minimal input from its driver.
Performing well in the technical-sounding load test is a leap forward in development because it confirms the wing is strong enough to withstand the stress of wind-tunnel testing. It also suggests the wing design will be sufficiently robust when scaled up for the full-size TF-X. Terrafugia used one-tenth-scale wing prototypes made of carbon fiber for the tests.
While the TF-X is in its infancy, with production not expected to begin for a decade or so, it is the backbone of Terrafugia’s long-term survival plan. The four-seat, four-wheel car has folding wings that extend for flight. Rotating pods attached the wingtips house folding rotor blades that allow vertical takeoff and landing. Thrust for forward flight comes from a rear-mounted fan.
The Transition flying car, which first flew in 2009 and could be ready for sale to customers in a year or so, is in many ways a place-holder for the TF-X and other vehicles like it. A Transition driver will also have to be a licensed pilot, so the vehicle’s appeal will be limited.
The TF-X’s will not need a pilot because it will take care of the flying tasks while the owner simply pushes buttons to tell it where to go. This level of automation and safety, the company says, will be critical in attracting more people to personal aviation.