.....by Melvin D. Saunders
........Most people have seen hovercrafts occasionally at outdoor events. There are even several types used commercially around the world. Hoverclub Of America, Inc. (P.O. Box 908, Foley, AL 36536-0908) puts out an informative publication, HoverNews, to its members, and keeps them abreast of all new developments in the field as well as dates of hovercraft rallies around the country.
........Another hover-type creation is the flying platform which dates back before 1956 when conceptualized models were first being constructed (see U. S. patent No. 2,953,321-The Flying Platform by Robertson, Stuart III and Wagner). A more modern model, the Wasp II, has a midget fanjet engine which was designed and developed by Williams International (Walled Lake, MI). The U.S. Army paid about $2.4 million for Williams to develop the first two test machines in a quest for greater mobility of military personnel in the field.
........ The compact Wasp II is designed to take off vertically and enables a man to fly for 30 minutes at speeds up to 60 mph. The device has no wings or exposed rotors, allowing the operator to fly between and under trees, close to buildings and cliffs, and reach areas that helicopters and other transport devices cannot reach. It can land on a 4-foot square area. The small turbofan engine produces thrust in the 600 pound class and is completely enclosed in front of the operator. The operator walks up to the free standing vehicle, steps onto a small platform, takes the hand control, starts the engine and flies. During flight, the operator controls the vehicle by leaning in the desired direction, experiencing a natural sense of balance.
........For over 25 years Paul Moller (former boy genius, backyard inventor and a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California), has been developing a sky craft, for commuters of the future. Early 2-passenger VTOL (vertical take off & landing) models were saucer-shaped in construction (see patent No. 3,614,030). Moller's first flying saucer, the XM-2, took 3 years to build and was completed in 1966. It weighed 700 pounds, measured 14 feet in diameter and managed to achieve a lift of only 36 inches off the ground. Moller's second saucer, the XM-3, was completed in 1968 and rode on a single fan with 8 engines. Its first flight achieved an altitude of 10 feet, and it could make a 360 degree turn. The next saucer, the XM-4, was powered by eight air-cooled rotary engines and was composed of a 2-piece fiberglass airframe. The airframe acted as a lifting body while the thrust modules provided lift to hover and the impetus for forward flight. In test flights, Moller himself attained an altitude of 40 ft. and sustained it for several minutes before setting back down again.
........To build a practical airflight vehicle for future commuters though, Moller knows, it has to be easy to fly, extremely safe, and have enough engines that it can tolerate a failure on one during an emergency and still get back down. Finally and most importantly, it has to be fundamentally inexpensive. After years of research and over $25 million dollars later, Moller has created a new prototype through his company, Moller International (Davis, CA), called the Moller 400 to meet the needs of the commuter of the future. After purchasing technical information from the Outboard Marine Corporation on a single-rotor engine they had been using to propel snowmobiles, Moller upgraded it into an air-cooled, 2-rotor engine with the power-to-weight ratio that vertical take-off demands. Moller also invented his own patented system of variable-camber exit duct vanes that direct thrust from 7-bladed, variable-speed fans mounted on each engine to produce lift for vertical take-off and hovering. On-board computers adjust the vanes in flight for lift or forward motion. Each of the 4 nacelles surrounding the fuselage contain 2 engines with synchronized, counterrotating fans that face each other to confine prop-tip noise to the center of each nacelle. The Supertrapp muffler, another Moller invention, keeps noise down to less than 30% of that from a light aircraft upon take-off. Should engine failure occur during flight, the craft can glide or an emergency ballistic parachute system would gently lower it to the ground.
........The soon-to-be completed Moller 400 is designed to carry 4 people, cruise at up to 322 mph (top speed 420 mph), have a ceiling of 40,000 ft., a range of 710 miles and get about 14 miles per gallon on standard gasoline. Moller has flown more than 200 manned and unmanned flights with previous models, and he is perfectly confident that his new production model will be the commuter craft of the future. Why? Because the 3 on-board computers do most of the work, and almost anybody can fly one with just 2 hours or less training on a simulator. There are only 2 controls, one is a lever on your left which selects altitude and rate of climb, and the other is a joystick on your right which you turn in the direction you want to go. The name Moller has give to these skycrafts of the future is -- Volantors -- stemming from the adjective volant, meaning have the ability to fly.
........Moller says that all of the technical problems have been solved, and that product liability and production money are the only limiting factors left. Moller declares, "If sufficient funds were available, we could have this thing through the transition phase and be demonstrating it in a matter of months." The first units produced are estimated to cost about $800,000, and he has already 80 orders, each with a $5,000 deposit. At the production rate of several thousand units per year, each would cost about $100,000. After producing around 40,000 per year, the cost would become no more than a luxury car in comparison. Navigating the maze of Federal Aviation Administration approvals is still ahead of Moller, but how do you think the auto industry will react to this new airborne, commuter craft? In fact, since Moller's revolutionary, aeronautical designs will replace many helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, his obstacles with powerful blocks of greedy men are only beginning.
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