Science Channel - InSCIder

2 Aug

A Flying Bicycle?

Flying-bicycle-250x150Remember the famous flying bike scene in the classic 1982 flick E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Well, pretty soon, if two British inventors have their way, you'll be able to soar into the clouds on a bicycle, without even having a cute little alien in your basket.

Yannick Read and John Foden are soliciting 50,000 British Pounds--about $77,000--on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, to finish the testing and design of the XploreAir Paravelo, which they describe as "a conventional two-wheeled bike that transforms into an easy-to-operate aircraft." According to an account in the British Guardian newspaper, It can can attain altitudes of up to 4,000 feet and an airborne speed of about 25 miles per hour.

Essentially, the Parevelo is lightweight aluminum bike hooked to a bike trailer, which houses an engine hooked to a big fan, a fuel tank and a flexible, unfolding wing that can be positioned above the bike. If you want to ride around in the streets, you simply unhook the bike and park the trailer. When you're in a mood to get into the air, you hook up the trailer and unfurl the wing, and then find a long stretch of unobstructed ground or road to serve as a runway. Once in the air, the Parevelo functions pretty much like an ordinary fan-powered paraglider, and can stay aloft for up to three hours.

They've already built and flown a prototype, which you can see in this video.

 

"We basically wanted something that we could ride and fly out of our backyard," Foden explains in the video clip.

If the inventors can raise the funds, they're hoping to begin producing the bikes, which would sell for about $15,000. Since the Paravelo would be an ultralight aircraft under Federal Aviation Administration rules,  it wouldn't be necessary to get a pilot's license to fly one--though Read cautions that taking to the skies without at least some training would be ill-advised, and you'd definitely want to stay out of urban airspace. 

Instead, Read told the Guardian that the best way to enjoy the flying bike would be to ride it out into the country on the weekend. The fabric wing is designed to double as a tent and the trailer can accomodate a small amount of camping gear, so that you could engage in what the designers call "flamping"--a combination of flying and camping. But they also envision a secondary market among government agencies, because the Paravelo could double as a low-cost reconaissance aircraft for forest rangers and border patrol agents. 

The Paravelo isn't actually the first flying bicycle--that honor probably belongs to the "cycleplane," which was built and flown by W.F. Gerhardt in Dayton in 1923.  But it strikes me as an ingenious concept, a low-budget, more utilitarian version of roadable aircraft, a.k.a. flying cars, that visionaries have been promoting for years as a solution to gridlock. (Here's a 2012 Popular Mechanics article on what that has't become a reality.)

So what do you think? Is there a flying bicycle in your future? Express your opinion below.

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