Personal flying machine

August 22, 2000

A strap-on helicopter could help you rise above the hurly-burly

IT IS every driver's dream. Stuck in a traffic jam? No problem. Simply strap on your personal helicopter and fly away from the cares and woes of everyday life. Now a Californian company hopes to turn this escapist vision into reality-and even NASA is taking the project seriously.

The personal flying machine, developed by Millennium Jet of Santa Clara, is called the SoloTrek. The pilot stands up in the machine and flies it using hand controls and by shifting their body weight. The craft takes off and lands vertically using two fans, enclosed in protective casings. The fans provide both lift and forward propulsion. Once the machine has taken off the pilot can tilt the fans slightly so that the SoloTrek travels forward.

It is designed to fly at speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour and the company claims it has a range of 250 kilometres on just one tank of petrol. NASA is providing technical support for the project, including computer modelling. Next month the space agency will take the prototype through its paces in a wind tunnel.

The SoloTrek is the brainchild of Mike Moshier, a former Navy pilot and the chief executive of Millennium Jet. Moshier acknowledges that others have tried and failed with similar concepts. A machine called the Rocket Belt was developed in the 1970s, and appeared briefly in the James Bond film Thunderball. But the Rocket Belt could only fly for 30 seconds before running out of fuel.

Not only will the SoloTrek have considerably greater endurance, but Moshier envisages designing a mechanism that would strongly encourage the pilot to land well before the machine runs out of gas.

To avoid a catastrophe it will use a four-cylinder engine, so if one cylinder fails the others would provide enough power to keep the machine in the air.

SoloTrek's first customers are likely to be the armed forces, police and rescue workers, says Moshier, because it can take off and land in confined spaces without a runway. However, he expects recreational use to develop later. "I am not bashful about telling you I would like to have one of these things," says Moshier.

William Warmbrodt, chief of the aeromechanics branch at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, who works with Moshier, says it remains to be seen whether the SoloTrek will work.

"It's been an idea since the '60s," he says. "But stability, control and practicality of the design have always been beyond the here and now. It may turn out that the SoloTrek is not feasible, yet will help us take a step towards a more feasible system."
Author: Kurt Kleiner

New Scientist issue: 26 August 2000


New Scientist

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