The Terrafugia Transition hasn’t even entered production yet, but the first ‘flying car’ of the 21st Century may already be facing some competition – and it’s a hybrid.
As his last project before giving up the reigns at the engineering firm he founded, Scaled Coposities, earlier this year, aviation pioneer Burt Rutan took on the challenge of building a so-called “roadable aircraft.” But unlike the Transition, which uses a somewhat traditional aircraft layout with folding wings, Rutan has designed a Chevy Volt for the sky.
The BiPod was conceived to be powered by two small internal combustion engines turning generators that send electricity to four electric motor-driven propellers located on the wings and rear stabilizer, as well as the rear wheels. Small batteries in the front of the fuselage can be used to help power the plane during takeoff, or in the event of an engine malfunction, and are intended to drive the BiPod up to 35 miles on the road in pure electric mode.
Similar in appearance to the mothership of Rutan’s SpaceShip Two, the twin fuselage design lowers aerodynamic drag and gives the BiPod a stable platform for on-road use when the wings are removed and stored in between them. In contrast to Terrafugia’s aircraft, which literally makes the transition from car to plane at the touch of a button, the BiPod’s wings need to be manually attached at this stage in its development. The driver/pilot also needs to get out of the BiPod before heading into the sky. One cockpit houses the controls for driving, while the other is used for flying.
Scaled Composites claims a range of over 700 miles and a top speed of 200 mph – in the air. On the road it’s likely to be a bit slower, but can cover 820 miles on a tank of gas, at least in theory.
As of now, the BiPod is very much an experimental aircraft with no plans for production. Instead, it is viewed as a test bed for the technologies that make it work, which could find their way into future vehicles. Nevertheless, the Scaled Composites team has ‘flown’ it, by driving down a runway and hopping into the air without the propellers installed.