24 August 2012


In the past I've posted and commented upon an assortment of personal vehicles adapted for flight, including cars, humvees, motorcycles, gyrocopters, crossover designsradical airplane designs, and a jet pack that fastens to one's body.  I'm fascinated with all forms of flying, from hovering hummingbirds to soaring sail planes.  Day dreams and dreams during sleep often feature me flying, with or without mechanical assistance.

Today, two more alternatives for those of us who wish to slip the surly bonds.  Anyone who has seen the 2003 film Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life will recall the heart-stopping sequence during which the characters played by Angelina Jolie and Gerard Butler flee their pursuers to the top of a Hong Kong skyscraper, quickly don odd-looking outer garments, and then escape by leaping out into space ~ where their garments transform into wingsuits (see image above, click to enlarge).  The fabric membranes between arms and torso, and between legs, allow a human to glide through the air much like a flying squirrel, though the human needs a parachute for landing.

Wingsuit flying has transformed into a competitive sport in which participants strive to break records for distance (16.3 miles), altitude (37,265 feet), duration (9 minutes 6 seconds), and speed (226 mph).  One can find videos on YouTube of extreme wingsuit flight which starts on a high perch, much like BASE jumping, and then zooms downward parallel to the steeply-sloping terrain, often within feet of contact.  Here is one such video, courtesy of my Chicago friend Bill.  Warning ~ do not try this at home.

A more recent development is a Star Wars-like hover bike.  The rider sits or crouches on a platform which is lifted into the air by two rotors.  Direction is controlled by leaning, much like a motorcycle.  Alas, the manufacturer, Aerofex, has no plans to produce these small hover craft for individual recreation.  Instead they see robotic versions used for transport of supplies or equipment to military special forces units, or to search-and-rescue teams.  Here is a link to a description of the craft, with an embedded video of its first test flight in the Mojave Desert.  Below is an image of the prototype.

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