Terrafugia is threatening to move its TF-X small UAV flying car research and development work out of the U.S. if the FAA does not grant the company an exemption for its work.                                                                       

Massachusetts-based Terrafugia wants permission to fly three “small, working scale models” of the four-seat plug-in hybrid electric, semi-autonomous, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

The TF-X, in the development phase, is the follow-on to the company’s two-seat Transition light sport flying car, which is currently awaiting FAA approval for a 36% increase in weight and 20% increase in stall speed above the maximum for the sector.

“If Terrafugia is not granted this exemption, we will be forced to conduct TF-X technology development in other countries,” the company states in recent correspondence with the FAA. “This would represent an immediate loss of investment capital in the U.S. economy, a potentially severe program delay, and highly detrimental effects to the long-term future of personal aviation in the United States relative to other countries. The countries that allow this type of technology development will surpass those that do not as measured by both the level of safety of personal aviation and the economic output associated with personal aviation.”

According to the company’s Section 333 exemption request submitted to the FAA in April, the radio-controlled models would weigh less than 15 lb., have a maximum speed of 30 kt., fly at a maximum altitude of 200 ft. and have flight duration of about 10 min. using lithium polymer batteries. An exemption is required to legally fly a small unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes. The company also submitted to the FAA a flight operations and procedures manual which it asked the agency not to make public due to the proprietary information included.

The FAA in a July 6 response to Terrafugia said it was “unable to process” the company’s exemption request because it did not include “the reasons why granting the request would be in the public interest; that is, how it would benefit the public as a whole.”

In an Aug. 3 reply to the FAA made public on Sept. 2, Terrafugia provided what it considered the missing ingredients, but also updated key characteristics of the small UAV as well as submitted a new flight operations and procedures manual, again with the request that it not be made public.
Regarding the public interest, Terrafugia says the new vehicle will address the anticipated traffic congestion costs in the U.S., projected to be $199 billion in 2020, with a “safe, convenient, and accessible form of alternative transportation.”

Along with a maximum weight increase to 22 lb., Terrafugia also boosted the maximum altitude and speed for the RC models to 400 ft. and 104 kt., respectively.