It was a moment I had been anticipating for most of my life: the first time I would take to the air in a machine that I had a hand in designing. This flight, and the flights of the other 11 “2-person test subjects” marked a milestone in the history of Terrafugia — the first time people other than our Chief Test Pilot, Phil Meteer, got the opportunity to fly a Transition.
In a word, the experience was awesome!
The first thing you notice is how easy it is to start the Transition — turn the key to “on” and push the “start” button. I was starting in plane mode, so no transformation was necessary. Phil encouraged me to swerve around a bit to get a feel for the steering in the non-movement area on the ramp. Taxiing the Transition is a remarkable experience for those of us pilots who are used to very mushy steering with our feet. The Transition is sharp and responsive on the taxi way — you use the steering wheel — and if you want, you can use the gas pedal and brake pedal, so taxiing is much like driving — only don’t forget that you’ve got your wings extended! Ground handling is a breeze — it will be very easy for non-pilots to taxi the Transition their first time at the controls. I took particular pleasure in honking the horn at our ground crew and using my turn signals as I followed the taxi instructions of Portsmouth Ground to the approach end of runway 34.
After a standard run-up, our Transition flight of two was cleared for takeoff by the tower. I taxied into position and held the brakes while our chase aircraft pulled into position next to us. Full throttle. Release brakes. Cross-wind control in. An occasional correction with the steering wheel to keep us on track. 60 kts IAS — pull back, and the ground drops away fast — we’re up!
As we climb out to the north, the chase reports that we are clean, and Phil clears me to do some basic maneuvering. The visibility from the cockpit is amazing. The Transition is a “cruiser”, a heavier stick than most other LSAs, not designed for aerobatics or abrupt maneuvers — rather designed to be a comfortable platform for our customers to take enjoyable weekend get-away trips. I find it to be a very stable and easily controllable platform: exactly what we want to help ease non-pilots into the air.
Landing is also pretty straight-forward. With no flaps, no retractable gear, no constant speed prop, no mixture control, and no carb heat to worry about, if you want to descend, just pull the throttle back. Although Phil has demonstrated “dead-stick” landing capability, the smoothest, most comfortable landings come with a bit of power applied on short final and left in all the way through touch down. It’s best to land at close to the lift-off speed of about 60 kts — and it’s nice having that extra speed, stall margin, and control authority near the ground! Due to the location of the rear wheels far aft of the CG, I was expecting a more abrupt “nose-drop” on touch down. What I experienced I would classify as a “non-event.”
And I can’t tell you how cool it was to fold up the wings — convert to car mode — and get permission from the tower to drive down the 2 mile runway on a 60 mph victory lap!
I have since landed five more times, and I am feeling pretty good about my ability to operate the Transition safely; this is a good sign for how long it will take to learn how to operate the vehicle.
I look forward to sharing this experience with all of our customers!