Six years after the initial announcement that Terrafugia, Inc. would develop a "roadable airplane," the Transition has completed the first phase of flight testing. The flight testing, carried out at Plattsburgh International Airport in northern New York State, assessed the light sport aircraft's full performance envelope. The Transition prototype was reported to perform "exceptionally well," allowing the testing to be carried out quickly.

The Terrafugia Transition is classified as a light sport aircraft, and is also designed to meet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards. In addition to working as a fine aircraft, the Transition can be legally driven on the road by folding the wings after landing.

The Terrafugia Transition folding its wings to be driven as a licensed street vehicle (Photo: Terrafugia)

The Terrafugia Transition, wings folded, drives casually down a suburban street (Photo: Terrafugia)

A light sport aircraft is defined by the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) as a fixed-wing airplane seating at most two people, with a maximum take-off weight of 1,320 lbs (600 kg), a maximum speed in level flight of 138 mph (222 km/h), a stall speed under 51 mph (82 km/h), and having a single engine and an unpressurized cockpit. The light sport category is nicely wedged between conventional light planes and ultralight planes (weighing less than 254 lbs (115 kg) empty weight and capable of flying no faster than 63 mph (101 kph), providing the opportunity for aviation enthusiasts to fly in a reasonably capable aircraft without requiring full noncommercial training and medical clearance.

The Terrafugia Transition in flight over northern New York State (Photo: Terrafugia)

The Transition actually has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,430 lbs (650 kg). An exemption for the extra 110 pounds (50 kg) above the usual weight limit was granted by the FAA so that the Transition can incorporate modern automotive-style safety features currently unavailable in other light aircraft.

The Terrafugia Transition on a test flight over northern New York State (Photo: Terrafugia)

Phase I flight testing of a light sport aircraft in the United States involves determining performance and maneuverability characteristics at speed, weight, center of gravity, and altitude variations under which the Transition is intended to be flown. Among the performance characteristics tested were power on and power off handling, aircraft stability, engine cooling evaluation, and propeller setting optimization in various flight conditions.

The Terrafugia Transition coming in for a landing after a test flight (Photo: Terrafugia)

Five more flight test phases are planned, with the goal of double-certifying the Transition as a Light Sport Aircraft and a drivable vehicle by the end of the (northern hemisphere) summer. Road tests ahead include exploring the ground drivetrain, tuning the suspension, and optimizing braking and road handling.

Topping the tank of the Terrafugia Transition with premium unleaded gasoline at a neighborhood service station (Photo: Terrafugia)

First customer delivery of a Terrafugia Transition is expected to occur in late 2012. While the expected price of the Transition continues to rise, from the original estimate of US$148,000 to the present estimate of US$279,000, the commercial availability of this historic aircraft/car is eagerly awaited in the sport aviation community. I know I would love to have one!

The video below shows footage taken from various test flights of the Terrafugia Transition production prototype.

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