Feeds

Israel to test ducted-fan robot air jeep 'within two months'

Auto-stabilised for windowsill boarding

High performance access to file storage

Paris Airshow Israeli developers working on a ducted-fan flying hovercar say that a full-size, turbine driven unmanned prototype will fly "within two months". Flight tests with a smaller electrically-driven model, they say, have validated their basic technology.

The Urban Aeronautics Mule being readied for testing in Israel

Sorry sir, your flying car isn't quite ready yet.

The Reg flying-car desk spoke today with Janina Frankel-Yoeli, marketing veep at Urban Aeronautics of Israel, at the Paris Airshow. Urban Aeronautics prefer to call their designs "fancraft", thereby distinguishing them from hovercraft, which can't actually fly.

"We've solved the three basic problems of ducted-fan craft," he says. "Our craft are stable, they can lift heavy loads, and they can fly fast - better than 100 knots."

Various ducted fan designs were tested for the US forces decades ago, and it was widely expected in some circles that "air jeeps" would soon supersede helicopters - and also take on many tasks that helicopters couldn't tackle, such as access to and from built-up urban areas.

The old US designs were marginal in terms of performance, however, and difficult to control. They never progressed beyond testing.

Frankel-Yoeli says it's a different world now. In particular, he argues that Urban Aero's patented arrays of control vanes above and below the lift fans make the craft hugely more stable and controllable. He demonstrated how, as the small "Panda" electrical prototype is tilted (as by someone boarding from a windowsill four floors up, for instance, in the case of a full-size manned version) the vanes automatically swivel to redirect the airflow.

Urban Aero say that the vanes, combined with modern fly-by-wire control electronics, will beat the stability problems that bedevilled their fancraft predecessors. The system will also allow an Urban Aero Mule or future manned X-Hawk to manoeuvre in any direction and rotate about its vertical axis without the need to tilt its thrust discs.

"Its great advantage is in urban areas," says Frankel-Yoeli. "Not just for military missions. Imagine a car accident, with both lanes of traffic blocked. A normal ambulance can't get there. A helicopter has no room. But we can land on the pavement."

The Israeli fancraft ticks a lot of flying-car boxes. It takes off and lands vertically, hovers, and can manoeuvre about between buildings without crashing blades into them.

All that said, Urban Aero "fancraft" still aren't shaping up as flying cars just yet. Large models capable of carrying people need to be powered by noisy gas turbines, unacceptable in residential areas. Then, the design is dominated by the need to keep the fan discs large - enough to seriously affect the useability of the craft. (This is why helicopters and tiltrotors have so far been the only serious vertical-takeoff craft: they can have nice big, efficient thrust discs.)

There's also the fact that it's pretty difficult to get mainstream aerospace and military people to take ideas like this seriously. Bell Helicopter in the States actually decided three years ago that it would take up the job of marketing Urban Aero fancraft to the US military. But there seems to have been little interest from the Pentagon, and the new CEO at Bell has disowned the project altogether.

But Frankel-Yoeli and his colleagues aren't giving up. The hovering fancraft could yet be a boon to the military and perhaps the emergency services - if they can really perform as advertised. The electric Panda seems to work, but the real test will come this summer when the turbine Mule takes to the skies. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.