The team at Scaled Composites pulled out all the stops to realize the final design of the company's founder and former CTO, Burt Rutan, ahead of his retirement in April earlier this year. In just four months, the Scaled Composites team went from beginning the preliminary design to the first flight of the "BiPod", a hybrid gasoline-electric flying car that grew out of a program to develop a rapid, low-cost electric test bed using as many off-the-shelf components as possible.
Rutan's Scaled Composites is the company behind a string of groundbreaking aircraft including the GlobalFlyer, along with the sub-orbital spaceplanes SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo and its launch aircraft White Knight Two. But while he wasn't busy with those projects, Rutan was apparently also toying with the idea of a personal electric aircraft, including VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) and roadable concepts.
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When those working on the BiPod program realized that many of the propulsion system characteristics of their electric test-bed vehicle aligned with the drivetrain needs of a roadable vehicle they expanded the research program to include a "flying car" airframe.
The result was an entirely new design with the ability to operate as a high-performance airplane with STOL (short take-off and landing) capabilities, a 200 mph (322 km/h) maximum speed and range of 700 miles (1,127 km) or as a road commuter vehicle capable of freeway speeds, urban driving and garage storage.
Designed for the dual emphasis of safe ground operations and efficient high speed flight, the BiPod features a twin fuselage configuration with a 4-wheeled chassis with two cockpits - the left-hand cockpit used for ground driving and the right-hand cockpit used for flight. There is also a protected storage area for stowing the wings and tail surfaces during ground operations.
This unique configuration is enabled through the use of electric power transmission, which decouples the engine location from the propeller location without the need for mechanical shafts and gearboxes. The craft has by two 450cc internal-combustion engines, one per fuselage, which provide electrical power to the rear wheels and propellers located on the horizontal stabilizer by way of a generator. There are also lithium batteries located in the nose to provide additional energy for take-off and in case of an engine emergency.
While the propellers are yet to be fitted, the vehicle has already made several bunny hops along the company's main runway in Mojave, California, propelled by the rear wheels, with the first "flight" taking place on March 30, 2011.
Scaled Composites doesn't yet have any plans to commercially produce the vehicle, which is also known as Model 367, saying it is continuing to test and develop the BiPod configuration and hybrid propulsion system, with the aim of using similar systems on future aircraft configurations.
Via Aviation WeekView gallery - 2 images