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SoloTrek XFV

Dream of Flight Coming Down to Earth

By Jim Bray

Have you ever dreamed of slipping the surly bonds of Earth and flying like an eagle?

I’m not talking about the type of flight you experience in a typical airplane, or in the flying cars about which I wrote a while back. Nope. I mean zipping around almost as if you were a bird yourself.

Science fiction?

Not if a company called Millennium Jet has its way. This Sunnyvale, California, enterprise is developing the SoloTrek XFV (for “Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle”), a device that you “step on, strap on, and fly.”

Kind of like a combination of flying harness and those rocket belts that were tried back in the 1960’s (watch the beginning of “Thunderball” to see one), the SoloTrek is a single person flyer that’s designed to take off and land vertically, which leads to the company’s claim that you can launch and land “on a site the size of a dining room table” – though my wife would undoubtedly have something to say about that!

The company claims that, if the day comes when you’ll actually be able to buy a SoloTrek, all you’ll have to do is step onto the doohickey, secure yourself to it (in a standing position), and fire up the engine.

Once the two counter-rotating ducted fans are producing the thrust required to make you a confirmed “soarhead,” you’ll head skyward gently, guiding the beast via a pair of simple hand controls – a joystick-like device and a throttle control.

The “proof of concept prototype” is powered by a four cylinder piston engine, but the production version will have a small turbo-shaft jet engine that puts out power in the 120 to 140 horsepower range. Millennium Jet chose this type of engine because of its high power-to-weight ratio, reliability (they have very few moving parts), compact design, flexibility of fuel, and lack of vibration. The company says that once the engine is started, the only thing that can stop it accidentally is to run out of fuel, which it says is impossible (we’ll see!).

Other safety features supposedly abound. To prevent unauthorized people from taking off with your SoloTrek, a retina scanning device will be included, and to make sure you don’t overload it, you’ll need to punch in your correct weight before the thing will start. This could be quite humbling, but it’s probably for the best.

Built-in early warning sensors are designed to provide the pilot with immediate information on any problems as they occur (through a head’s up display helmet) and, since the gadget’s meant to normally fly just above the tree tops, anything less than a complete catastrophe should allow for a safe landing within seconds. As a backup, there’ll be an integral, ballistically deployed parachute, though it’s primarily designed to work from altitudes higher than 100 feet.

The craft is currently undergoing high-power ground testing that’s scheduled to be completed this summer. After that, they’ll begin some six months of tethered hover testing.

Computer models and wind tunnel tests suggest the machine will be able to zip you along at up to about 80 miles per hour, with a range of 150 miles. Its maximum service ceiling is estimated to be approximately 8,000 above sea level though, as mentioned above, its practical level will be at a “bird’s eye view” height of 100 feet or so above ground level.

So you’ll want to keep a keen eye out for power lines!

SoloTrek’s specifications include a length of 60" and a width of 104" and it’ll stand 90” high. Its empty weight should be around 275 pounds (so you won’t want to carry it home if you land unexpectedly!), with a maximum Gross Weight of just over 700 pounds.

Pricing of the production unit is estimated to be in the range of a “very high end sports car,” which leads one to think it won’t be cheap.

It sure could be fun, though!

If the concept ever “takes off,” its uses could go beyond a quick trip to the grocery store, including police (imagine the look on a burglar’s face when the officer drops out of the sky to make the bust!) and search and rescue.

Well, search anyway. It won’t carry away that much, after all.

Still, it sounds like a neat idea and I hope Millennium Jet pulls it off.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFile Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.


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March 9, 2016