Aug 20, 2014 6:56 PM by REUTERS
Deep in the English countryside, aeronautical engineers are perfecting a new generation of aerial drone. With increased stability and manoeuvrability, and able to carry a much heavier payload, it represents a significant leap forward in drone technology.
This small drone, however, is just the 1/3rd proof-of-concept model for something much more ambitious. A full-sized quad-copter hoverbike that can be piloted by a person as well as flown by remote. It's the brain-child of engineer and helicopter pilot Chris Malloy, who first tested his concept with this bi-copter design.
"I've always been one to look at designs and see how I can make them better. And when I got my helicopter license I realised that the helicopter as a design has a lot of improvements that need to be made, and one of them is safety and reliability. They're very complex machines. And my goal was to see where we could strip away the complexity and increase the safety and that's basically where the hoverbike came from," says Chris Malloy, managing director of Malloy Aeronautics, LTD., and the original designer of the Malloy Hoverbike.
Engineers at Malloy Aeronautics are currently completing construction of the final prototype, with flight tests expected in a few months. The team first plan to launch the hoverbike as an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle, before securing aviation certification for the manned model.
Meanwhile, the smaller model has proved popular with drone enthusiasts around the world and is contributing revenue towards the design and production of the full-sized version. Marketing director Grant Stapleton explains that the manned hoverbike is designed to be flown like a helicopter and as such will be subject to the same stringent testing before a human can take to the skies.
"This hoverbike is a helicopter. It takes off like a helicopter, it flies and lands like a helicopter. It's designed to fly to an altitude of over 9,000ft and do so at over 100 knots. It's much safer to be away from the ground where there isn't anything to hit in the air, and that's why it is designed as a helicopter," adds Grant Stapleton, director of marketing and sales for Malloy Aeronautics.
That issue of safety is one area where the team says the hoverbike has a clear advantage over the helicopter.
"Rotor-strike is a major issue with helicopters this here eliminates rotor-strike by protecting the propeller blades from the ground and other airborne obstacles. The helicopter is inherently complex, the hover bike is very simple. So, from a complexity issue the hoverbike is safer. And it's built to be robust and flown in environments that a typical helicopter would have trouble with," Malloy says.
While Malloy's vision of manned hoverbikes maybe years away from reality, the advances in drone technology that the team is making means that ambition is nearly within his grasp.