Most of us have seen archive footage of some of the daring first attempts at powered, controlled flight around the turn of the 20th century. All manner of ideas were tested, often failing spectacularly. Thankfully, the spirit of the inventor is rarely extinguished, and some enterprising creators laid the groundwork for what we now know as the modern airplane.
That doesn't mean that many of those same inventors, and many more to come after them, decided to rest on their laurels at any point, satisfied with commonly accepted notions of flight. In fact, they've continued to challenge themselves to revolutionize the concept. Spectacular failures may still occur, but progress is undeniable.
We've assembled here a group of flying inventions that all have serious brains behind them, the result of years of research — and they've all ACTUALLY taken off. It may still be some time before they go mainstream, but it's a look at the potential future of flight nonetheless.
Volocopter (pictured at top)
Manufacturer: e-Volo (Germany)
Type: Electric VTOL aircraft
Specifications: Cruising speed about 60 mph; max altitude 6,500 feet; max takeoff weight 990 pounds
Cost: About $280,000
Wacky score: 10
This incredible 18-rotor machine looks like a giant drone. It has come a long way since its fragile-looking VC1 prototype (pictured above) and aims to deliver the convenience of a helicopter without the complex controls.
The VC200 flew in 2013 but can only manage 20 minutes before the juice runs out. A hybrid is being developed until battery technology catches up.
Type: Fixed-wing, powered strap-on suit
Specifications: Top speed around 185 mph; 200 feet/minute climb rate; 200 pounds of engine thrust
Cost: Development cost around $96,000
Wacky score: 7
Swiss pilot Yves Rossy, known as "the Jetman," pioneered this jet-powered wing "backpack" that turns him into a one-man flying machine. It has a 7.9-foot wingspan and is powered by four jet engines. Red Bull Stratos jump legend Felix Baumgartner flew across the English Channel with a fixed delta wing in 2003 but that didn't have a jet attached.
Rossy flew it over the Alps in 2008 but fell about 3 miles short trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in 2009. It has now been certified in the USA by the FAA.
Aero-X Hover Bike
Manufacturer: Aerofex (USA)
Type: Hover bike
Specifications: Top speed 45 mph; max altitude 12 feet; useful load 300 pounds; endurance 1.25 hours
Wacky score: 9
Is that from "Star Wars"? Nope, it’s a real-life hover bike, floating on two rotors and flown by simply leaning in the direction the pilot wants to go. No, really — it exists. And it has a spare seat for a passenger.
Tested already and slated for sale in 2017, this "off-highway vehicle" is apparently easy to fly, but in case things go wrong it has optional airbags.
Manufacturer: Terrafugia (USA)
Type: Street-legal flying vehicle
Specifications: Cruising speed 100 mph; range about 400 miles; takeoff distance 322 feet to reach 50 feet of altitude
Wacky score: 6
It may just look like a plane with fold-up wings, but it has been certified as roadworthy in the U.S. and converts between flying and driving modes in less than a minute. And it fits in a standard home's garage.
Manufacturer: Moller International (USA)
Type: Four-engine VTOL "volantor" aircraft
Specifications: Top speed 331 mph; cruise speed 308 mph; endurance 5.9 hours; max altitude 36,000 feet
Wacky score: 10
Inventor Dr. Paul Moller has spent 50 years creating his dream, facing criticism and financial challenges along the way. But with the rotary VTOL M400X prototype he hopes he is almost there.
It can fit on a road, carries four people and has been flown, if somewhat briefly and gingerly. The team is now working to obtain certification.
Manufacturer: Parajet International Ltd. (UK)
Type: Paraglider buggy
Specifications: Top speed 55 mph; altitude 10,000 feet; range 200 miles
Wacky score: 6
With a giant rear-mounted turbo prop and a ram-air parafoil wing, this goes from ATV to lightweight aircraft in minutes and can take off from short makeshift runways on tarmac, grass and even sandy beaches.
Manufacturers expect to secure an S-LSA Light Sport Aircraft certificate by the end of the year, meaning just 12 hours of lessons are needed to fly it.
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