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SpaceShipOne designer produces hybrid flying car

Famous engineer Burt Rutan's swan song

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Burt Rutan, the famous engineer behind the Ansari X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne and many other amazing aircraft, has produced a hybrid-electric aeroplane which can also be driven on roads as his final design before retirement.

The BiPod features twin fuselages equipped with electrically driven wheels and propellers (though the latter have yet to be fitted). The batteries powering the craft's propulsion and systems are kept topped up by two small internal-combustion engines, one in each fuselage. The batteries hold enough power for two landing attempts should the BiPod suffer an engine failure in flight, and also furnish extra power for takeoff.

Here's a slideshow with pictures of the BiPod, as well as other aircraft Rutan worked on during his long career at his company Scaled Composites – now a subsidiary of defence mammoth Northrop Grumman.

Thus far the BiPod doesn't have its propellers, but it has made test hops from the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Scaled Composites' main base. In these tests the BiPod got up to speed using its driving wheels.

For road use, the BiPod's wings are removed and stowed between the two fuselages. One cockpit has road controls, and the other has flight ones.

As an aircraft the BiPod is expected to cruise at 200mph for a range of 500+ miles, or at 100mph for 750+ miles. On the road it will have plug-in hybrid performance: it can go 35 miles on batteries alone or 800 using engines, and "highway speeds" will be achievable. The machine can fit into a decent-sized garage, as it is 7' 11" wide with its wings stowed.

Scaled says the BiPod was developed in a crash effort in order to get it finished in time for Rutan's retirement from the company he founded – and also to give some of the firm's young engineers a chance to work with him before he departed. The BiPod is now being publicly shown off in order to gauge the level of interest in it as, until now, selling flying cars is not the sort of business Scaled (or Northrop) has been interested in. ®

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