They have been a staple of science-fiction films for decades, from the iconic speeder bikes in “Return of the Jedi” to the jet bike from “Looper.”
Now a California company says it’s taking orders for a real life flying motorcycle powered by five modified jet engines on the base of the aircraft.
Dubbed the “Speeder,” the $380,000 vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft will reach at least 150 mph, have a 45-mile range and be able to travel as high as 15,000 feet when it debuts next year, according to David Mayman, the CEO of JetPack Aviation, a company that creates and sells personal jet packs.
The speeds and heights may sound far-fetched, but company officials say they’re already testing a one-third scale prototype. The plan, they say, is to roll out 20 full-size Speeders ready for customers next year.
For those bold enough to ride one, the aircraft comes standard with a safety strap.
“This is a compact machine, like a motorcycle, that can take off vertically from your front lawn or driveway and land on the other side of the city in a similar position,” said Mayman, who famously made a jet-pack flight around the statue of Liberty in 2015. “That kind of convenience and size is what we’ve all dreamed about, but this idea has always been treated like science fiction.”
Increasingly, flying cars, motorcycles and other personal craft are no longer the stuff of imagination. The Speeder is the latest entry into the race to create autonomous flying vehicles, with companies such as Uber, Airbus and Volocopter already developing them. Eventually, flying-car inventors say, commuters will be able to order an air taxi that whisks them across town in minutes, bypassing traffic-clogged streets below.
In Dubai, police unveiled a flying motorbike known as the Scorpion in 2017 that places a daring pilot between four whirling propellers.
In Texas, the chief executive of LIFT Aircraft says his startup’s electric-powered vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, the Hexa, plans to begin offering 15-minute flights across a lake outside Austin this year for $249 a pop.
Unlike with conventional aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require a pilot’s license to operate a “powered ultralight” craft. The agency’s rules require instead that ultralights operate during daylight hours in open areas and limit their use to sport and recreation.
Like others developing similar craft, Mayman said the Speeder will be used for recreation and operated on personal property until rules and regulations begin to evolve. The craft can be operated autonomously or semi-autonomously using a throttle and a joystick that will feel familiar to video game enthusiasts, he said.
At some point, the Speeder could be adapted to use electric energy, but for now, Mayman said, no battery cells come close to the speed and potential power created by turbine engines.
“Infrastructure and regulation are not there yet to allow even electric aircraft to fly around cities,” he said, noting that the Speeder uses a kerosene-based fuel. “I strongly believe that will come if the use case and safety of the aircraft can be demonstrated.”
Mayman maintains there’s a large role for the Speeder to play in both civilian and military life. He said his company has been working for several years to develop a jet pack that could be used by special-forces soldiers. As their payload requirements continued to increase, he said, engineers began designing a personal aircraft that eventually turned into the Speeder.
In military settings, Mayman said, the aircraft could be used to transport heavy loads or move soldiers on and off the battlefield, especially in areas too dangerous for helicopters. The craft is small enough to sit on the back of a boat or atop a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, he said. In civilian life, he said, those same capabilities would make the aircraft useful for first responders, allowing them to reach locations that might be difficult otherwise.
Maymen foresees the day when the Speeder will undertake missions that even a drone can’t handle. “Electric drones have electric motors out on arms and that help stabilize the craft, but the large ones that can carry people are way too big for serious urban operations,” he said.
In contrast, the Speeder’s engines are clustered beneath the craft.
“If you have a victim and can’t get them in an ambulance and want to land literally two feet away from them, we can do that,” he said. “We have no exposed rotors and nothing that will injure people nearby.”