Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality. U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military.
The device, a quadcopter, is in the initial stages of testing before a human pilot takes a seat in it.
The concept was developed by New Zealand inventor Chris Malloy, who wanted to build a small, cheap aircraft for driving cattle and surveying land.
His British-based company, Malloy Aeronautics, manufactured the prototype, which the U.S. technological company Survice Engineering is testing for possible military use.
“This craft was designed from the ground up, for someone to get on and off," said Mark Butkiewicz of Survice. "This one provides the stability of having four rotors, so you’re not sensitive to gravity issues. They are not so separated that you have problems getting on and off the craft.”
During a demonstration, the remotely-controlled scale model performed beautifully, carrying a dummy pilot called "Buster." The U.S. Army thinks it could someday carry soldiers, flying low over rugged or dangerous terrain.
A full-size model is already being built in Britain, but testing by a human pilot will depend on the craft’s safety and reliability.
“We’re looking at several ways to improve that, including the ability to operate with one rotor out," Butkiewicz said. "That capability, I think, will make sure that it is reliable and safe for both military and civilian use.”
The full-size hoverbike will be powered by a gasoline engine turning an alternator to provide power for its four electric rotors. There will be two versions, with one and two seats. They will fly up to 96 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour), with a range of up to 240 kilometers (150 miles).
Butkiewicz said no firm dates have been set for the testing of the full-size model.
“Talking with the U.S. Army counterparts, we are looking into a three-to-five-year development effort, so that would be a good time frame to expect additional progress on the hoverbike,” he said.
For now, Malloy Aeronautics is selling a battery-powered scale model of its Hoverbike for about $1,000 to $1,600, useful for aerial photography or light deliveries.