Flying Car Takes Off at New York Auto Show

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you are going to build a street-legal airplane, it pays to have good insurance.

Insurance is Richard Gersh's thing. I met the 22-year veteran of the insurance business, an affable risk and policy wonk, on the floor at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday. He was getting a kick out of the media horde tweeting, posting and shooting his latest exercise in risk management -- the Terrafugia Transition.

A plane that's a car. And a car that's a plane.
The first road-ready personal flying car, the Transition by Terrafugia, is shown off at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday.

"I was at a lunch for a local flying club back in 2006 and a couple of MIT grads stood up and described this marvelous idea they had for a plane that can also drive down the road," Gersh said. "I walked up to those MIT engineers after the meal and said, 'What are you going to do about insurance?' And here I am."

Gersh was the first non-engineer hired by the 25-person firm based in Woburn, Mass. Terrafugia creates what is probably the world's first "roadable aircraft." This hybrid car/plane is without question the most exciting, innovative and downright daring idea here at the auto show, and it stands in stark contrast to the pathetic "me-too" engineering from Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan and the rest.

Gersh is adamant that Terrafugia's kind of grand-scale thinking is what will solve the world's problems.

First You Screw Up, Then Lie and Finally Die

"We are the little company living the big American Dream," Gersh said. Forget Spare Tires, Try Parachutes

As the vice president for business development at Terrafugia, Gersh does the gritty regulatory blocking and tackling to make sure that a plane that's also a car is legal both in the sky and on the road.

It ain't like selling life insurance. The Transition is an airplane whose wings fold, the same way the F-14s in Top Gun do on an aircraft carrier. With wings retracted, the Terrafugia drives down any street, gets 35 miles per gallon and can reach 65 miles per hour. Though a performance car it is not. Once at the airport -- you do need about 1,700 feet to take off, so sadly there is no just popping the wings and flying over traffic -- the wings unfold. And off you go for about a 490 mile flying range.

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