Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Terrafugia transitions to market (aopa.org)
18 points by prostoalex on Oct 10, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 10 comments

This is really cool. Last I heard are going to be using the Nashua, New Hampshire airport as their maintenance and training airport. Their flight path goes over my house so I'm hoping I'll se one soon.

The article on the other hand lacks a bit of substance. Three paragraphs and a quote?

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."

— Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. 1930's

I'm going to hold my misgivings about a flying car playing out like people want for a while longer. I don't know how they're going to combine economy, speed, and payload while keeping a safety margin against people who think it'll be just like driving.

Aircraft aren't terribly hard to fly. However, the decision making process surrounding aviation has been honed over multiple lifetimes. To add another adage: there are no old, bold pilots.

This company has existed almost as long as YC, yet is just now getting their first product to market. I think I'd heard of them before I'd heard of YC.

For years they were a scrappy independent company slowly getting FAA/NHTSA approvals and variances but without major financial resources — I recall they were one of the early participants in Wefunder back in 2014. (To this day, at least from my perspective, I'd say they're the most notable company to equity crowdfund. But I might not be a typical observer.) https://wefunder.com/terrafugia

Then in July 2017 they were acquired by Zhejiang Geely, the owner of Volvo. I imagine that gave them the resources necessary to create a manufacturing line and come to market. (Still unclear to me whether the purchase is because they'd finally reached a point in R&D where it was market-ready so they sold or if the influx of capital pushed them over the finish line.)



Partially due to legal/liability concerns and the FAA regulatory process, bringing an entirely new aircraft to the market in the US is very long process. Just the various manufacturers that have been developing diesel engines for small single engined aircraft have gone through very long testing processes.

No kidding I've been following https://deltahawk.com/about, since before my first child was born and now he's in college.

Testing for certification takes a long time. Also, adding to the fun: FAA cert is only good for the US. If you want to sell your aircraft in Europe, you need EASA certification. And so on for Canada, Russia, China, Brazil etc. Though many of the requirements overlap, it may still take additional years to secure certification from each country's aviation regulatory body.

It says they're approved to sell it as an 1800 pound LSA. The normal weight limit for an LSA is 1320lbs. This seems rather exceptional.

There's a proposed rule working it's way through the system to increase the LSA weight limit to 3600lbs. It would essentially bring Cessna 152/172 class aircraft under the rule and make LSA much more attractive. One of the main complaints with LSA is that the aircraft are too light to be useful even as trainers.

This is cool, a drivable airplane is a great idea.

It changes private flight from an expensive hobby to a reasonable transportation option for middle class folks.

Come share my excitement :-)!

Private planes sound awesome. Travel at 100+ mph and go right from airport node to airport node straight over the inefficient curviness and traffic of roads. For example Oakland airport to Truckee is 160 miles direct, 190 miles by car.

The big problem with private planes (cheap Cesna style) isn't the price, it's the inconvenience. Because many private pilots have trouble maintaining an instrument rating, almost any trip you can think of can be delayed by just clouds or fog. Or night time. And even if you get a instrument rating, flying through a storm is terrifying. The restrictions are maybe a bit bureaucratic but flying in weather and at night really are dangerous.

You constantly have this 1/10 chance that your trip will not start or get back on time. By days. It's hardly convenient.

So you flew somewhere and now you want to get back even though it's a little cloudy, one big problem is actually the plane itself. You can't just hop on a commercial flight or greyhound bus because now your plane is stuck on a little airfield somewhere.

Another weird issue is that weather is very local. So it might be foggy in Oakland but clear in Concord. If you could just take off 10 miles away, your whole trip will work out.

This solves both problems, you can drive all the way back in a storm, at night. You can drive over the hill to a blue sky airport. As cool as flying is, being on the ground is safer for everything but a clear still day.

This is not just a rich person thing. It's about $10-15 thousand to get the first level private pilots license. The price for the cheapest piston planes (Cesna/a newish Diamond A40) is as low as $1.10 per mile. (A flight club, that includes gas and insurance). The Diamond A40 sticker price is about $400K, if Terrafugia can keep the price and maintenance at about this level, the rate should settle there.

That's not crazy expensive, car driving ends up to be about $.54 per mile minimum. (Think cheap newish sedan.) This is the IRS driving rate and it's a very good estimate of minimum driving cost. Plus consider that you will be driving farther because you aren't going in a straight line. In terms of affordability it is like renting an SUV in terms of expense. Using Oakland to Truckee, a private plane trip for 2 people would cost about $180 one way. It's not wildly different from renting a car.

This makes the convenience of private flight practical for people who can't afford private jets.

The public policy/national interest aspect is that this would provide much better options to small and mid size towns, who are very poorly served by commercial flights. This is everything from nurse/doctor serving 4 different towns in 4 clinics one day a week to the managers and accountants of a regional retail store.

The flexibility is the 10x improvement, there are other smaller pros too: you can just arrive at airport and drive to a destination without hassling with or paying for rental cars, you can keep your plane in a normal garage without paying for airport parking, and you can get around mountains (difficult even in clear weather) by driving over them.

I don't fly or have a license (have obviously thought about it!), but if there was a flight club with a Terrafugia, I would join.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact