of Flight Coming Down to Earth
By Jim Bray
Have you ever dreamed of slipping the surly bonds of Earth and flying
like an eagle?
Im not talking about the type of flight you experience in a typical
airplane, or in the flying cars about which I wrote a while back. Nope.
I mean zipping around almost as if you were a bird yourself.
Not if a company called Millennium Jet has its way. This Sunnyvale, California,
enterprise is developing the SoloTrek XFV (for Exo-Skeletor Flying
Vehicle), a device that you step on, strap on, and fly.
Kind of like a combination of flying harness and those rocket belts that
were tried back in the 1960s (watch the beginning of Thunderball
to see one), the SoloTrek is a single person flyer thats designed
to take off and land vertically, which leads to the companys claim
that you can launch and land on a site the size of a dining room
table though my wife would undoubtedly have something to
say about that!
The company claims that, if the day comes when youll actually be
able to buy a SoloTrek, all youll have to do is step onto the doohickey,
secure yourself to it (in a standing position), and fire up the engine.
Once the two counter-rotating ducted fans are producing the thrust required
to make you a confirmed soarhead, youll head skyward
gently, guiding the beast via a pair of simple hand controls a
joystick-like device and a throttle control.
The proof of concept prototype is powered by a four cylinder
piston engine, but the production version will have a small turbo-shaft
jet engine that puts out power in the 120 to 140 horsepower range. Millennium
Jet chose this type of engine because of its high power-to-weight ratio,
reliability (they have very few moving parts), compact design, flexibility
of fuel, and lack of vibration. The company says that once the engine
is started, the only thing that can stop it accidentally is to run out
of fuel, which it says is impossible (well see!).
Other safety features supposedly abound. To prevent unauthorized people
from taking off with your SoloTrek, a retina scanning device will be included,
and to make sure you dont overload it, youll need to punch
in your correct weight before the thing will start. This could be quite
humbling, but its probably for the best.
Built-in early warning sensors are designed to provide the pilot with
immediate information on any problems as they occur (through a heads
up display helmet) and, since the gadgets meant to normally fly
just above the tree tops, anything less than a complete catastrophe should
allow for a safe landing within seconds. As a backup, therell be
an integral, ballistically deployed parachute, though its primarily
designed to work from altitudes higher than 100 feet.
The craft is currently undergoing high-power ground testing thats
scheduled to be completed this summer. After that, theyll begin
some six months of tethered hover testing.
Computer models and wind tunnel tests suggest the machine will be able
to zip you along at up to about 80 miles per hour, with a range of 150
miles. Its maximum service ceiling is estimated to be approximately 8,000
above sea level though, as mentioned above, its practical level will be
at a birds eye view height of 100 feet or so above ground
So youll want to keep a keen eye out for power lines!
SoloTreks specifications include a length of 60" and a width of
104" and itll stand 90 high. Its empty weight should be around
275 pounds (so you wont want to carry it home if you land unexpectedly!),
with a maximum Gross Weight of just over 700 pounds.
Pricing of the production unit is estimated to be in the range of a very
high end sports car, which leads one to think it wont be cheap.
It sure could be fun, though!
If the concept ever takes off, its uses could go beyond a
quick trip to the grocery store, including police (imagine the look on
a burglars face when the officer drops out of the sky to make the
bust!) and search and rescue.
Well, search anyway. It wont carry away that much, after all.
Still, it sounds like a neat idea and I hope Millennium Jet pulls it
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFile Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.
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