The suspension and back wheels are in place, and an intern, Jordan Kusch, secures the front wheels. A TV crew is here. Dietrich is jittery. “You tightened all the lug nuts in the back, right?” he asks. Kusch nods. Minutes later, Schweighart repeats the question, “The rear wheels are tightened up?” “They are,” Kusch confirms. “I’ll go check,” Dietrich says.
After they triple-check the wheels, they carefully lift the proof-of-concept off its stand and gingerly set it on the floor. Nothing breaks, nothing cracks. “Weight on wheels!” whoops engineer Marc Stiller. For a few minutes, the shop is all smiles, cheers and flashing cameraphones. The Transition supports its own weight. That’s all it has to do today. But Dietrich isn’t satisfied. He kneels by the nose and starts pushing it up and down. He wants to see whether the first pothole will do it in. Nothing this rigorous was on the schedule, though, and the operations manager in his wife looks wary. “Uh, Carl?”
But the initial bounce goes well, so Dietrich motions for a few of the others to join him. They glance at one another nervously, then shrug and follow their leader. With two men on a side, they hoist the back of the vehicle a few feet off the floor, drop it, and breathe again as it lands, bounces to a stop—and holds together. Dietrich beams.
Eight weeks later, there’s a freshly painted, gleaming white, gorgeous airplane parked where the dune buggy used to be. I’ve come the morning the team is leaving for Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where they have committed to unveiling a finished vehicle at the Experimental Aircraft Association show. The crew has been working all night. Around 11 a.m., Schweighart sinks to the floor for a brief nap while Dietrich passes out in a chair surrounded by coffee cups. Everything but the prop shaft is installed. The body and engine are complete, the electronics are operational, and the remote-control doors open without a hitch.
The event is the Transition’s reveal to the world, and it’s critical for the business, since tens of thousands of pilots and potential customers will be there. Two interns push the vehicle out of the shop and up into the garage-size trailer. Neighbors and deliverymen gawk. The sky is blue and clear, the day perfect for the Transition to unfold its wings and take to the air. It almost could, and the team would love to do it, to show everyone right now how real this is. But they won’t turn on the engine for another month. That’s the plan: Show it off, then drive it, then fly it. Ticking off benchmarks until they finally have a few hundred pilots behind the wheel of what is—OK, yes—a flying car.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.