Brimming With Confidence

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The MIT group deals with the snide remarks, knowing smiles and barely concealed giggles with a single line on its Web site: "Why will Terrafugia succeed where so many others have failed?" the group asks rhetorically. Given the source, the answer might be obvious. In a word, it's engineering. The trio says it's taking an engineering approach to the project. What they've come up with is a two-place vehicle with an airplane-like fuselage and fold-out wings. It will have a 100-hp engine driving a tail-mounted pusher prop and weigh in at 1,320 pounds, qualifying it for light sport aircraft (LSA) status. In fact, Dietrich says, the no-medical, low-cost Sport Pilot certificate option was a major factor in the decision to design the drive-to-the-airport-and-fly-away machine. It's that last little bit that allows the MIT group to avoid a rat's nest of engineering hurdles by sidestepping what has often been the major impetus behind flying cars. Rather than take off from the driveway and soar over the stressed-out commuters below, Transition will join them on the freeway on its way to the airport. Once on the ramp, the wings will fold out and head for the runway like any other plane. Not much detail is available on the way it all comes together but presumably it will be fleshed out a little more in time for Oshkosh. In the meantime, Merton Flemings, who's taught engineering and materials science at MIT for 50 years, says Dietrich's plan is the real deal. "With the advent of new materials and new engines and this innovative design, he's got a chance to make it work," Flemings said. "I think the time has come."