A California-based company has taken a science fiction design similar in concept to "Star Wars" speeder bikes, which were featured most notably in the "Return of the Jedi" chase scene, and refined the technology to make it feasible for human use.
InnovationNewsDaily reports the firm Aerofex has fixed stability issues with such a hover craft by including a control bar at the the users knee level that allows the pilot to better lean and balance the vehicle.
"It essentially captures the translations between the two in three axis (pitch, roll and yaw), and activates the aerodynamic controls required to counter the movement — which lines the vehicle back up with the pilot," De Roche told InnovationNewsDaily. "Since [the pilot's] balancing movements are instinctive and constant, it plays out quite effortlessly to him."
The vehicle has been tested in California's Mojave Desert and in more crowded conditions. See it in action:
De Roche told InnovationNewsDaily the company is not ready to market it for human use yet but sees a future for the craft as an unmanned aerial vehicle by the military:
Even the soldiers or Special Forces might use such hover drones to carry or deliver heavy supplies in the tight spaces between buildings in cities. U.S. Marines have already begun testing robotic helicopters to deliver supplies in Afghanistan.
The hovering drones would not fly as efficiently as helicopters because of their shorter rotor blades, but their enclosed rotors have the advantage of a much smaller size and safety near humans.
"They are less efficient than a helicopter, which has the benefit of larger diameter rotors," De Roche explained. "They do have unique performance advantages, though, as they have demonstrated flight within trees, close to walls and under bridges."
Here's another demo of the bike:
The video description of the clip above, which is Aerofex's latest on its YouTube channel, provides more information about the bike's features:
On this last flight of the test-bed before rework, the favorable downwash of ducted fans is clearly visible. Dust and debris are pushed away from the pilot, even while flying close to the ground.
The ducts prevent tip vortices from forming and isolate the fans from the external flow field. The latter quality permits unperturbed flight around obstacles and when transitioning indoors.
In contrast, the recirculating flow of open rotors has earned it a name, and the bane of pilots: "helicopter brownout" in the desert and "helicopter whiteout" in snow.
A second prototype has a flight planned for October of this year, while an unmanned version is coming in 2013, according to InnovationNewsDaily.
As a bonus, in case you needed to see it for comparison purposes, here is the chase scene from Return of the Jedi with the speeder bikes (Note: the bikes come in around 1:25 in the clip):
(H/T: Fox News via Blaze reader Jeffrey H.)