For just a cartoon, the original version of Jonny Quest delivered the goods that young action fans craved. The opening credit sequence condensed the overall themes of the series fairly well. Pterodactyl? Check. Tanks and explosions? Check. Bad guys floating by in two hovercrafts? Check. Wait a minute! Hovercraft?
The hovercraft always struck me as very cool, but completely unattainable sci-fi. I mean, at that time, it seemed easier to create James Bond’s iconic jetpack in Thunderball than to build a craft that hovers consistently and safely above the ground.
Well, aerospace engineer Mark de Roche is changing my assumptions. His California-based company, Aerofex, is testing a prototype hovercraft with a two-duct rotor. Back in the 1960s, designers gave up on the concept, because of rollovers and stability issues.
However, the Aeroflex version is so intuitive that, in the future, it could be as easy to use as riding a bicycle. Rather than relying on fancy electronics and AI software, stability comes from a mechanical system — two control bars at knee-level. Thus the craft becomes engaged with the rider’s natural movements and their inate sense of balance. According to de Roche, a person can ride the Aerofex without training:
“It essentially captures the translations between the two in three axis (pitch, roll and yaw), and activates the aerodynamic controls required to counter the movement — which lines the vehicle back up with the pilot. Since [the pilot’s] balancing movements are instinctive and constant, it plays out quite effortlessly to him.”
Right now, the Aerofex prototype can hover to a height of 15 feet off the ground and reach a speed of 30 mph. Though these limitations are more from the company’s own cautious and methodical approach, rather than the hovercraft design itself.
Don’t look for a consumer model soon. Aerofex is talking to the Pentagon about possible uses in tight combat situations — like urban warfare. Also, with military applications in mind, they are developing a drone hovercraft next year.
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