The German physicist behind the Evolo manned multicopter and the Volocopter 2-seater has just taken his first flight aboard another remarkable aircraft: a flying electric scooter. Thomas Senkel flew his Skyrider One prototype for some 46 minutes in the idyllic surroundings of the Canary Islands, marking what he believes is the first electric, road-registerable two-wheeler to take to the sky.
If flying car proponent Dezso Molnar is on the money, we should be thinking less about flying cars, and more about roadable aircraft. Simple, single-seat designs that can straddle the gap between the road and the sky to achieve multi-mode transport in the most efficient way possible.
On that axis, Thomas Senkel's Skyrider One scores very highly as a practical, simple and elegant design. It's a simple two-wheel electric scooter, with a 6-kW (8-hp) hub motor to drive the rear wheel, and a 13-kW (17-hp) motor driving a large rear-mounted propeller. A regular tandem paraglider canopy can be unfurled when you want to fly, and then it's a matter of gaining enough speed in scooter mode to fill up the 'chute, lifting off, then engaging the propeller drive to give you power in the air.
Flying prototype aircraft – especially hybrid designs like this one – must be a nerve-wracking experience. Indeed, as Senkel told us, "I was very nervous in the beginning and at the landing. I have some experience with powered paragliders," said Senkel, "but the behavior of the Skyrider One was unknown. After landing, I was relieved that everything went really fine. The next flight would be a lot easier."
Senkel sees simple designs like the Skyrider One as the quickest and easiest way to achieve flying car-like capabilities.
"You can drive to your airstrip, fly to somewhere, and drive home after landing," he says. "With all-electric drive, it's quiet and doesn't make any pollution. It can be used in areas where combustion engines are not allowed. And two wheels are enough, no need for more. Take off and landing is easy with some help from your feet."
Skyrider One can take off on any flat terrain or airstrip. The rider needs to face into a slight headwind; crosswinds aren't suitable. Once in the air, it's possible to switch the motor off altogether and ride thermals to keep yourself aloft for potentially hours at a time without draining the battery.
The prototype has just two small 3 kWh lithium polymer batteries, giving it a total range up to 120 km (75 mi) on the road with a maximum speed around 60 km/h (37 mph) or 30 minutes of powered flight if you run the propeller constantly.
Senkel believes it's the world's first flying electric two-wheeler: "All other powered paragliders I know come with three or four wheels and a combustion engine," he tells us. It's also extremely light, weighing in at just 108 kg (238 lb).
Senkel is now looking for production and marketing partners to take Skyrider One to the market. The production version will use a folding prop with no surrounding cage in order to make it easier to ride on the road, and Senkel's already thinking about what other improvements can be made between now and then.
Even though we're just at the dawn of the electric aviation age, Thomas Senkel has already built himself a pretty astounding CV. He's on the bleeding edge of the manned multirotor movement with the Evolo and Volocopter projects, and now with this small, practical electric flying scooter he's broken new ground in the multi-mode transport segment. Not to mention his work on the Hendo hoverboard and anti-gravity devices. We're officially putting him on our list of inventors to watch out for!
Senkel's maiden flight on the Skyrider One can be seen below.
More information: Skyrider One