Boeing's race to achieve safe, quiet, compact VTOL personal flight devices has narrowed its list down to five competitors, each of which get US$50,000 to help develop their prototypes. Meet the Phase II GoFly winners going on to compete for a US$1.6 million final round prize pool.
Aeroxo: Eva Aviabike
With offices in Moscow, Russia and Riga, Latvia, the Aeroxo team has plenty of experience building commercial-grade multicopter platforms. They've hit GoFly with a funky tilt-rotor flying motorcycle concept using 16 ducted fans arranged in tilting banks of four. VTOL and slow speed flight will be much like a drone, but as the Eva gains speed, it begins to develop lift from stacked double wings at the front and back, and at a certain speed the rotors can tilt fully forward for efficient winged flight.
It's a fanciful-looking device, but the team appears to have a prototype flying – at least with the fans pointed vertically.
Dragonair: Airboard 2.0
Coming to us out of Panama City Beach, Florida, the Dragonair team has built what looks like a kind of aerial Segway platform. It uses eight props slung underneath a hash-shaped platform the pilot can stand on, with two handles to hold for control and balance. The Airboard 2.0 is up and flying, with a gutsy team member on board. It looks light, stable and ... quite scary, if we're honest, even if she makes it look easy.
If the Dragonair looked scary, perhaps that's just because we hadn't taken a good look at the Silverwing yet. Built by a team out of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the S1 is another kind of flying motorcycle design. But instead of using tilting rotors, it's a tail-sitter.
The pilot climbs on board an aircraft that's pointed directly upward, and the S1 rises vertically on the thrust of two large ducted fans. Control is achieved through ailerons on a large rear wing, and the aircraft should be able to transition to more efficient winged flight at speed. Not sure how happy we'd be about the idea of landing ass-first, though, with no way to see what's below. And that seating position looks like it'll go from incredibly uncomfortable at takeoff to a different type of uncomfortable in the air.
Not to mention, the pilot will be the heaviest part of this aircraft, and that weight will be sitting in a very inconvenient spot once the S1 goes horizontal. We're not sure how the team plans to solve that one, but here it is, flying with a dummy on board.
Texas A&M Harmony: Aria
From Texas A&M University comes the Harmony team and its Aria flying machine. Similarly to the Airboard, the Aria puts the pilot on top of a platform, although this time it's in a seated position in an egg-shaped capsule on top of a pair of large, counter-rotating, coaxial fans.
With broad balancing poles extending out on four sides, the Aria looks quite stable in the air – at least in indoor flight testing – but by golly you'll want to make sure your phone doesn't drop out of your pocket and damage the props when you're airborne. Here it is in testing.
Trek Aerospace: Flykart2
Of all the finalists, the Californian ducted prop specialists at Trek Aerospace have to take the cake for the coolest looking concept design. The Flykart2 looks exactly like what you'd expect from a flying go-kart: a sporty, harnessed race seat in the middle of a bank of electric ducted props, all protected by aerodynamic bars.
At its heart, though, it looks like an attractive but fairly standard 10-prop manned multirotor design, which will mean that, like the other two that have no winged flight mode, the Flykart2 will need to carry a ton of energy to achieve any kind of endurance.
From traditional multirotors to tilt rotors, tail-sitters to coaxial copters, the finalists represent a decently broad range of ideas tackling the challenge of personal flight from different directions. It's worth nothing, though, that none of them look like they'd be capable of making a safe landing if the motors failed, so none of them helps push the personal flight revolution past its greatest hurdle. That's the one we'll need to jump before we see these things in the air in any kind of practical capacity.
From here, the teams need to kick into top gear to prepare for the final fly-off in Q1 2020, where they'll need to demonstrate that their aircraft can take a human pilot on a 20-mile (32-km) flight. Each will be judged on performance, speed, endurance, VTOL capabilities, noise levels, compactness and the overall flight experience they offer.
The grand prize winner will take home $1 million, with a $250,000 prize each for the quietest and smallest compliant aircraft, and a further $100,000 for "disruptive advancement of the state of the art."
If you're asking for our predictions – and you're probably not, but hey – we suspect the Aeroxo design might end up being too complex to get working in a human-flyable form within 12 months. We suspect the Silverwing might struggle too much with its weight distribution, or finding somebody brave enough to fly it. And we suspect the three remaining designs might struggle to make a 20-mile flight, because without any wings to support them in motion, they'll all be burning energy constantly just to stay in the air. So we have no idea which team will win, and if forced to make a guess on the grand prize winner we'll have to go with the DragonAir team, who already seem to be quite comfortable in the air on their Airboard, and will just need to work out how to carry a monster load of batteries. What are your predictions?
Check out the GoFly contest's finalist announcement video below, which has some interesting recent footage of a few of these devices.
Source: GoFly Prize
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