Footage of a hover bike test flight surfaced on the Internet this week and quickly sent sci-fi nerds and techies on a heavy Star Wars nostalgia trip. The video is enthralling not only because it's a futurist’s wet dream. The vehicle's user-friendly design could usher in an era of low-altitude flight as a form of daily, personal transportation.
Built by Aerofex, a California company, the hover bike finally perfects a design that was scrapped in the 1960’s due stability issues. Like earlier versions, it achieves flight through the rotation of very large fan blades, like a helicopter. The difference is in control bars near the knees that react when the driver leans on them, allowing the vehicle responds like a horse or surfboard. (Aviators call this system kinesthetic control, a tem coined by Charles H. Zimmerman, who in the 1950’s created “flying shoes” and a “flying pancake” for the US military.) Aerofex's hover bike has been tested at 30 miles an hour and a height of 15 feet, and it has flown under bridges, in trees, and around buildings.
"Think of it as lowering the threshold of flight, down to the domain of ATV's (all-terrain vehicles)," said Mark De Roche, an aerospace engineer and the founder of Aerofex in an interview with InnovationNewsDaily.
Aerofex's goal to break “the barriers that limit access to the benefits of flight,” according to the company's website. "Imagine personal flight as intuitive as riding a bike," reads another passage on the site.
So when can we expect these flying contraptions to hit the market, and how much will they cost? According to De Roche, the answer is... “No.” Aerofex has no intention of offering these bikes to the public. De Roche sees them being used by search-and-rescue teams in difficult terrain, by farmers, and by the military in the form of an autonomous supply carrier.
Aerofex’s hover bike isn’t the only small flying machine trying to get off the ground, although it has racked up the most successful test flights. An Australian competitor has yet to complete a successful untethered test flight despite a similar design and ambitions to reach the mass market.