The dream of a manned, truly functional hoverbike is a step closer to reality after British and American engineers announced a deal with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop and build the vehicle in the States.
Developers Malloy Aeronautics says its Hoverbike prototype is built to do many of the jobs that a helicopter is used for, but without the problems inherent with helicopter design. Malloy have joined forces with U.S. firm SURVICE, 30 year veterans of defense research and development, to develop the vehicle in the U.S. state of Maryland.
According to Malloy’s marketing sales director Grant Stapleton, “there are a lot of advantages of the Hoverbike over a regular helicopter. Primarily there’s safety. With ducted rotors you immediately not only protect people and property if you were to bump into them, but if you ever were to bump into somebody or property it’s going to bring the aircraft out of the air. So there’s a considerable safety level which is a considerably high level of safety involved there. The other thing is cost. This is much less expensive to buy a Hoverbike and much less expensive to run.”
Most of the frame of the original bi-copter hoverbike design was hand crafted from carbon fiber, with a foam core. In subsequent years the technology evolved to such an extent that it was adapted to a quadcopter design.
As a proof of concept, Malloy and his team of engineers built a one-third scale model of the hoverbike in Hampshire in the UK. The team then decided to market the small scale model to help raise funds to continue the development of the manned version.
The full-scale Hoverbike features advanced stability and maneuverability, and can be controlled to fly by itself on a pre-determined flight path, return to home, loiter and follow the controller. It also features a humanoid figure that can be attached to it, complete with mini-cam mounted in its head.
“It can do so much inexpensively and effectively as a multi-purpose product that can be flown manned or unmanned,” said Stapleton. “It’s absolutely ideal. It’s inexpensive, it can carry a decent load, it can get in and out of very small spaces very quickly and it can be moved across continents very quickly because it can be folded and packed into a C130 or onto a ship and taken; lots of them can be moved around and deployed in the places that you need them very easily and very quickly.”
The developers also say the hoverbike’s low cost and practical size lends itself to operations such as search and rescue missions, first-responder emergency services, and cargo insertion into confined spaces.
The Hoverbike features unique offset and overlapping rotor blades, designed to reduce weight and platform area. It has guards around the rotor blades to minimize rotor-strike.
At the Paris Airshow, Stapleton and Mark Butkiewicz from SURVICE were joined by Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford to announce the opening of an office in the state’s Harford County, to develop the Hoverbike for the U.S. Army.
Butkiewicz explained the U.S. Defense Department’s interest. “The Department of Defense is interested in Hoverbike technology because it can support multiple roles. It can transport troops over difficult terrain and when it’s not used in that purpose it can also be used to transport logistics, supplies, and it can operate in both a manned and unmanned asset. It can also operate as a surveillance platform,” said Butkiewicz.
He added: “We’ve been working with Malloy Aeronautics to develop a full-scale version of the scale model in front of me and the next step is to do additional testing and then to design and construct prototypes that meet military requirements.”
Butkiewicz envisages the Hoverbike being used as a multi-role tactical reconnaissance vehicle, supporting both military and humanitarian missions.
Lt. Governor Rutherford welcomed the deal, which he said would bring many well-paid jobs to the state, and said he hoped one day to try the Hoverbike out for himself. “It’s a fascinating concept. I’ve seen the demonstration, the video demonstration. I think there can be a lot of applications, and maybe I’ll be the fifth or sixth person to ride it. I’m going to wait until a couple of people ride it before me,” he joked.
Stapleton insists Malloy Aeronautics will remain an independent company for now and also hopes to also tap into the commercial and leisure markets.