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Two Flying Cars March 20, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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There is a real-time demonstration going on right now, as two separate companies strive to meld aircraft with road vehicles.  But the demonstration isn’t what you think.  It’s not about their respective projects, but about the companies themselves.

Terrafugia is a relatively well-funded startup that now has a flying prototype under its belt.  The core MIT crew has a wealth of aeronautical design experience, and is actively working with both the FAA and NHTSA to certify the Transition vehicle as being both air- and road-worthy.  They have come a long way, and there is still a long way to go.  But they are very close to having a production vehicle in public use.  Like another similar company, Icon, they are a team of quick-thinkers who have the means to rapidly test and modify the craft as the weight, balance, performance, and features are regularly traded off.  They are a team of true aeronautical entrepreneurs.

Samson Motorworks also has a prototype, just a bit behind Terrafugia’s in terms of both funding and airframe construction.  They have solid computer simulations of airworthiness, but alas, only a road-based prototype for now.  Building a roadable aircraft isn’t easy.

But when we hear about small businesses being job creators, these are the people we’re talking about.  Unfortunately, in the early stages of the game, the jobs themselves are in short supply, and they tend not to be stable.  In order to work for them, one needs to be a self-sufficient entrepreneur – tolerant of risk and uncertainty.  With time, if these designs truly take off, they will become standard outputs of an assembly line somewhere.  In many politicians’ minds, those are the jobs they’re counting on.  Fine jobs, to be sure, but not the same as the original founders and risk-takers.

The adventure wears off, the science gives way to engineers, which gives way to technicians (as Clifford Stoll might say), which gives way to mere advertising.  There is much to be grateful for in security and stability.  But there is a passion and a love of the chase in creating something new.  I hope these valuable people stay in the game and continue the pursuit of the unusual and the untried.  Not for jobs, but for the love of discovery.