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Personal Flight

— Aircraft

Hanging out at the First Annual Rocketbelt Convention

September 29, 2006 Last weekend Gizmag’s Billy Paul attended the First Annual Rocketbelt Convention at the Niagara Falls Aerospace Museum in New York, USA. Yes folks, you read it right, we said rocketbelt as in jet-pack, Buck Rogers, James Bond, the 1984 Olympics and Lost in Space. Believe it or not, these devices have been around for more than four decades with the first untethered flight performed on April 20, 1961 by Harold “Hal” Graham. During the inaugural flight, Graham flew the Bell rocketbelt a not-so-astounding distance of approximately 100 feet while only a few inches off the ground. Perhaps the anticlimactic nature of this device is the central reason that we are not all flying to work using rocketbelts. Nonetheless, enthusiasts and Bell Aerospace (or just Bell depending on the year) employees from all over the globe flew to New York on boring and very un-James-Bond-like commercial jets in order to attend this rather enigmatic event. Read More
— Aircraft

The Rocketbelt Convention

August 13, 2006 Vaporware is software or hardware which is announced but fails to materialise. The term implies unwarranted optimism … that development is too early to support responsible statements about its completion date or even feasibility. The rocket belt is perhaps then, the world’s longest gestation vapourware, first entering the public consciousness in the 1920s through the newspaper-syndicated Buck Rogers scifi comic strip, and first attempted by the German Army during WWII as the Himmelsturmer (Skystormer). The first working rocket belt was built by Bell for the U.S. Army in the 1950s. It created mainstream awareness in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball and raised expectations of consumer versions when it was used in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics. But 50 years after the Bell Rocket Belt was built, only a handful of people have flown a rocketbelt, only one commercial version is available (at US$250,000) and only two companies (here and here) have successfully commercialised demonstrations. All that might change soon as a number of people have rocket belts under development and next month (September 23-24), there’s to be a Rocketbelt Convention at Niagara Aerospace Museum in New York which is to be attended by all the major players in the fledgling industry. Organised by Peter Gijsberts, the head of the Airwalker Society and curator of the most comprehensive and up-to-date rocketbelt information website, the RocketBelt Convention is compulsory attendance for all would-be Buck Rogers. Read More
— Aircraft

The Terrafugia Transition - the first viable flying car?

An interesting new flying car is being launched this week at Oshkosh. The Transition is a Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) designed to make general aviation more practical for personal transportation. From start-up company Terrafugi, the Transition drives like a car on public roads and can transition into an aircraft at the nearest airport by lowering its 27-foot wings and taking off. As an aircraft it has a top speed of 130mph, a range of 500 miles and can carry a payload of 430 pounds. One stop gives you over a thousand miles of range inside eight hours. Then you land and fold up the wings and you’re back on the road. As Terrafugia Chief Operating Officer Anna Mracek explains, deposits are being taken at Oshkosh, “our anticipated purchase price is $148k, and a deposit of 5% of that anticipated price will secure your place in line, but not guarantee that exact price.” The Transition delivers 30 mpg in either car or plane mode and promises a true integrated roadable aircraft at an economically compelling price. A prototype is being constructed and deliveries will start in 2009. The Transition will be capable of driving at normal highway speeds, flying at speeds that approach the light sport aircraft limit, and park in a standard garage. The CEO and CTO of Terrafugia is Carl Dietrich – note that name as he’s been incredibly impressive in everything he’s ever attempted and this is an ambitious play. Carl will receive his PhD from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics this year. Carl received both his SB and SM degrees from the same department, winning all four out of four design competitions available to him then the golden globe for entrepreneurs, the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize which annually recognizes one student for outstanding innovations. Read More
— Aircraft

Eclipse Aviation begins production of its landmark Very Light Jet (VLJ)

April 1, 2006 The dream of Eclipse Aviation ‘s Vern Raburn has long been to bring the word "personal" into aviation, by building an affordable very-light jet , enabling commercial air passengers to move directly between cities and allowing pilot owners to enter the world of jet-powered aviation. Earlier this month production commenced on the first of 2350 Eclipse 500 jet that have been ordered with non-refundable deposits – more than US$3 billion worth of orders. Output is booked to 2010, although there are some delivery slots for new orders from the third quarter of 2008. Most significantly, nearly one third of the orders are from owner-pilots - 750 in total. Those who paid their deposit early will score the 375 knot, six occupant jet for just US$1,000,000. Those who want to join the queue now will wait a bit less time for their Eclipse 500 but will pay US$1,295,000. Even at that price, the Eclipse 500 is far cheaper than anything competitive and has the lowest operating cost per mile of any jet. Whatsmore, this extraordinary jet gives you access to more than 10,000 airports in the U.S. Read More
— Aircraft

Designer Jet interiors for the rich and famous

March 23, 2006 If no two people are the same, then neither are two billionaires. So why is it that most VIP Interiors tend to favour a traditional concept, layout and style? This is fine if you’re a J.D. Rockefeller, (all leather chesterfields and walnut burr), but what if you’re a Versace or a Branson or even an Oprah?? Great wealth affords customers the opportunity to indulge themselves, to define an identity and style across a range of living environments from castles to Palazzos and megayachts. So why not VIP aircraft?? Read More
— Aircraft

The modern hot air balloon

Ballooning went mainstream in 1960 when the Raven prototype ‘modern’ hot-air balloon demonstrated that man had finally found a cost-efficient, lightweight material for the balloon envelope in the form of polyurethane coated nylon, with the burner powered by cylinders of propane. The first U.S. national championships followed in 1963 and further advances to material technology and LPG burners have seen the sport evolve into a substantial tourism industry with more than 5000 registered balloon pilots in the United States and a larger number in Europe. Every major city in the world offers balloon flights to tourists and if it is something you have never done, we thoroughly recommend it. There's no noise (at least most of the time when the burners aren't firing) to get between you and the environment of the birds, and a remarkable platform from which to survey almost anything, let alone something as complex as a real-life city. The following photographic essay was taken yesterday over Melbourne, Australia in a Hot Air Balloon using a Sony DCS-F707 Cybershot 5 megapixel 5x optical zoom camera and a Kodak Easyshare P850 5 megapixel 12x optical zoom camera. Read More
— Aircraft

The first flying machine - the hot air balloon

Human flight turns 222 years old on Monday. The hot air balloon was the first sustainable form of flight, with the first passengers, (a sheep, duck, and rooster) taking to the skies on September 19, 1783 and the first humans breaking the shackles of gravity on November 21,1783 were Pilatre de Rozier, who was also to become the first man killed in an ballooning accident, and infantry officer Marquis d'Arlandes. The flight took place in the centre of Paris lasted 25 minutes and covered a little more than five miles and the balloon was built of paper and silk by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Ettienne. The Montgolfiers were well-educated paper merchants who had read the work of English scientist Joseph Priestly on the properties of air and had the skills to adapt the available technologies Read More
— Aircraft

Star Wars-style Pod Racing comes to life - the Rocket Racing League blasts off

October 28, 2005 Think of a cross between Star Wars Pod Racing and Formula 1 and you have the Rocket Racing League (RRL) – a new formula racing competition with nuclear levels of spectator appeal. The first demonstration flight of the new RRL series was held earlier this month at the X PRIZE CUP in New Mexico (USA). Former astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss piloted the RRL's EZ-Rocket in a series of crowd-thrilling manoeuvres. The EZ-Rocket is the precursor vehicle to the Mark-1 X-Racer, which is currently under development with planned test flights in the Spring and Summer of 2006. The Mark-1 will utilise a modified airframe from Velocity Aircraft and a single 1,500 - 1,800 pound liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene rocket engine. This engine will have twice the thrust of the development vehicle and will be extremely bright and visible in contrast to the development prototype EZ-Rocket which uses LOX and alcohol. As an aerospace entertainment organization, the RRL will combine the competition of racing with the excitement of rocketry with a series of competitions across the United States, with the finals taking place each year at the X PRIZE Cup in New Mexico. RRL races will operate much like auto races, with the exception that the "track" will be in the sky. Courses are expected to be around two miles long, one mile wide, and about 5,000 feet high, running perpendicular to spectators. The X-Racers, will take off from a runway both in a staggered fashion and side-by side and fly a course based on the design of a Grand Prix competition, with long straight-aways, vertical ascents, and deep banks. Each pilot will follow his or her own virtual "tunnel" or "track" of space through which to fly, safely separated from their competitors by a few hundred feet. Read More
— Aircraft

ATG’S Javelin Prototype takes flight

October 1, 2005 Aviation Technology Group’s much-awaited Javelin took to the skies for the first time yesterday in Colorado. Born from the intense desire to offer military performance to the general aviation market, the US$2.795 million two-seat executive jet will be available in 2008 and the military trainer versions will be available prior to that – the successful 35 minute maiden flight indicates all is well with the planned roll-out and with the order books now heading for 100 sales for the new two-seat jet aircraft capable of .925 Mach (1130 kmh), you’d best get your money down quickly if you’re planning on being the first on your block to have one of these babies. Read More
— Aircraft

Your own helicopter for under US$20,000

September 21, 2005 Flying is not a sport generally associated with those people who are light of wallet – which makes the Mosquito Ultralight helicopter something of a rarity. The entire kit for the Mosquito can be purchased for US$20,000 and if you think the minimalist Mosquito leaves you a bit vulnerable, there’s the fully enclosed Mosquito XE and XEL which can be purchased for US$23,000 apeice. Building the kits will cost you about 200 to 300 hours to build or you can have the plane built for you for a flat US$4000. Getting airborn for under US$20,000 in your own, new helicopter is quite a feat – we’re not aware of any other helicopter in this price category and on top of that, both Mosquito variants offer very low maintenance and operating costs. Read More
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