Jim Fleming: Transitions recent introduction at the 2012 New York International Auto Show was the talk of the town. Did Anne Dietrich have a moment where she just sat back and said: “Wow! I invented that?”
Anne Dietrich: Unfortunately no. [Laugh] One of the things I like the best about myself, and sometime I regret most about myself, is I am always very focused on what’s next. So I very rarely take the time to step back and really just feel: “Oh my goodness” about anything. And as much the [inaudible] folk that talk with me and work with me about the Terrafugia because I am always super proud of my team and very proud of things that I have personally accomplished as well, but it’s always: “Ok, great. Check that of. Now what’s next?” I don’t really remember a moment when I was a truly an of a concept. I was like: “Oh! Well that’s great. Now how do we do it?”
Fleming: I guess it’s time for us to really talk about The Transition, this plane that you have designed or is it a car that you have designed?
Dietrich: It’s a plane; it’s an airplane that drives.
Fleming: So what does it look like?
Dietrich: Well I always say that it looks like a car in the sky and a plane on the ground. So it has four wheels, traditional small plane configuration, wings. It’s a low wing aircraft and it has twin tail boom. So it’s a two place aircraft and have, we had our painted blue and white. And it looks, when it’s parked on the ground it looks: “Oh it’s an airplane!”And then we saw it in the air and we were like: “Oh. It looks like a car in the air.”
Fleming: Can you describe for me the process of invention? Because you did have this two different, and in some ways really opposing, problems to deal with. On one hand you want a plane that is going to meet the minimum standards of the best plane you can fly, so you feel safe. And then the other equally difficult problem of designing the best plane you can drive.
Dietrich: I think that’s kind of a position engineers like to be in. [Laugh] Given a hard problem and some interesting ways of solving it. And it doesn’t have to start at excruciatingly high levels of detail. But you have to know what you get into. So for instance we had to know this vehicle had to pass certain set of crash tests, before we really started doing any design work. Because in order to solve that problem it needs to be incorporated in you thinking from the beginning. You can’t just complete something and be like: “ Oh wait! But the structure that has to past this “Right? It’s like you can’t create the skeleton of the animal after you have already decided what shape the animal looks like. You have to know, from the beginning, what your requirements look like. At least at the detailed enough level to be thinking about them properly. Once you have that, we were big fans of brainstorming at Terrafugia we do it for everything whether it’s an engineering problem, or a business problem, or marketing campaign” We always start with the brainstorming session. Basically that’s just getting as many smart people in the room that know a little bit about what you trying to do as possible, laying down those ground rules and just saying: “Go!” We are very strict about that while you are actually officially brainstorming you don’t shoot down anybody’s idea. You can make it better, you can built on it, but you can’t say: “Oh no, That won’t work.” Very collaborative, very comradely focused environment for that.
Fleming: Did you have two teams working on this? One for focusing on driving, one focusing on flying.
Dietrich: Oh no. That would never work. [Laugh] No offence Jim that would have never worked. The vehicle very intergraded and there’s a lot of dual purpose in the structure and the mechanisms.
Fleming: Now, the takeoffs and landings still must be done at a regulation airport, not O’Hare but a small landing field?
Dietrich: Yes, there’s over 5000 public use airport around the country. So on average within about 30 miles of one and any point in the US.
Fleming: And what about fuel for Transition?
Dietrich: It runs on super unleaded auto gas.
Fleming: So you can actually pull in a gas station and put the hose into the tank and fill it up?
Dietrich: Oh yeah! We have. [Laugh]
Fleming: Do you have to build a bigger garage?
Dietrich: It depends on where you live, when the house was build. Its about 7 feet tall, little bit less, so will fit under 7 feet garage door. And its 90 inches wide. So if you can park sort of a larger SUV, like a Navigator or Escalade style vehicle, you could probably park a Transition in your garage.
Fleming: When you were younger could you have imagined being involved in creating this?
Dietrich: No I thought I was going to build space ships. [Laugh] I always knew I wanted to work on things that flew. I did have stars in my eyes when I was a kid. But the reality of it is that aviation is much more open to individual entrepreneurship than space is today. And I hope that that’s changing, I think it is. But where we are now this was a right industry for me to go, do a company in.
Fleming: We have been interested in invention and in the ways people come up with new things. We were looking back thru patents; the very first one was for making potash of all things it’s, used in fertilizer. Signed by President George Washington in 1719. It’s pretty practical, when think about it. So here we are its 2012. Is the Transition practical as you apply for the patent?
Dietrich: I don’t know about potash, so I can’t tell you if it’s more or less practical than that. But it is practical and one of the things we have been demonstrating, with our test program now, is that is also real. So if you watch the video that we have released with the driving thru the neighborhood, pulling in the gas station and taking off from the airport. And the thing that still strikes me about it is just how normal it looks: “Well of course he’s getting gas. What’s a big deal?â€ And then you realize that while he’s getting gas he’s going to fly it in about 15 minutes. I think it is practical, it does work. Which I do feel like, given the science fiction connotations that flying cars tend to have, it does need to be emphasized this is a real thing, you can really use it. And I think it’s going to have real practical on lot of people’s lives.
Fleming: Anne Dietrich invented the Transition a plane that can drive.