The US Army Research Laboratory has recently struck a deal with two companies, a UK-based start-up Malloy Aeronautics (MA) and Survice Engineering Co. (SE), to develop hoverbike technology for the US Department of Defence (DoD).
MA‘s hybrid hoverbike (a contraption most people associate with sci-fi novels and the Star Wars movie franchise) looks more like a giant quad-copter drone than anything else – two oak propellers in the front and two in the back provide lift and thrust, with controls and a seat in the middle for a pilot.
The prototype, which was made from lightweight carbon fibre, combines the lifting power of a helicopter with the looks and feel of a motorcycle.
According to the company, its new hoverbike has a maximum take-off weight of 270 kilograms and can log a distance of 148 kilometres on a single tank of gas.
The one-third scale prototype is controlled remotely, and it‘s likely that any full-scale model will have the option of flying without a human on-board, too, making it not just a hoverbike, but a drone that a soldier can ride.
The project started as a hobby the engineer and MA founder Chris Malloy worked on in his garage at home in Sydney, Australia. As time went by, however, several industries became interested and started making offers. The project completed a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, raising more than 100.000 dollars from 451 contributors.
To develop the bike in the US, MA teamed up with Survice, a Maryland-based defence contractor and engineering company. The partnership was announced last week at the Paris Air Show.
“The Department of Defence is interested in hoverbike technology because it can support multiple roles. It can transport troops over difficult terrain and when it’s not used in that purpose it can also be used to transport logistics, supplies, and it can operate in both a manned and unmanned asset. It can also operate as a surveillance platform,” said Survice representative Mark Butkiewicz.
The hoverbike is still undergoing testing and hasn’t yet been seen taking off without a rider on-board while tethered to the ground.
One the goals the US Army hopes to achieve with developing the new technology is replacing some of its helicopters with hoverbikes, thereby improving safety and decreasing costs:
“With adducted rotors you immediately not only protect people and property if you were to bump into them, but if you ever were to bump into somebody or property it’s going to bring the aircraft out of the air,” explained MA’s Marketing Sales Director Grant Stapleton.
Another company currently developing its own hoverbike technology is California’s Aerofex, which has announced its plans to release a commercial version of the aircraft in 2017 with a sticker price of 85.000 US dollars.
The first step in the deal will be to build a functioning full-scale model, and from there the DoD will reportedly design military-grade prototypes. In the meantime, Malloy Aeronautics will continue to make scale models while developing a commercial version of the hoverbike.