Friday, June 26, 2015

'Hoverbike' could join the fleet in 3 to 5 years

'Hoverbike' could join the fleet in 3 to 5 years: The military is working to develop a Star Wars-style "hoverbike" that uses a motorcycle engine and small rotors to soar up to 9,000 feet high.

A British startup firm and a U.S. defense contractor are working with the Army Research Laboratory in Maryland to test a prototype aircraft that could transform the way U.S. troops operate in difficult terrain. The aircraft could be available for procurement within three to five years, a company official said.

The aircraft is designed to carry a single pilot and fly at a range and altitude similar to a traditional small helicopter. But it's small size and potential maneuverability mean it could operate in far tighter spaces than a larger rotor-wing aircraft.

"The Army is looking at using it … close to the ground. So we are looking at technology to make sure it's safe in that kind of environment," said Mark Butkiewicz, manager of applied technology at Survice Engineering, a Maryland-based company working on the project.

"In some cases, the lower altitude is more challenging because you have to make sure you can maneuver around objects and debris and buildings," Butkiewicz said in an interview with Defense News, which is owned by the same company as Military Times.

A military variant of the aircraft could carry up to 400 to 800 pounds of cargo, said Grant Stapleton, a sales director for the British firm, Malloy Aeronautics.

The aircraft is equipped with sensors that allow it to fly manned or unmanned. The rotors spin inside a circular space enclosed by metal rims and strong wire mesh, a key safety measure that prevents rotors from striking objects when operating in smaller spaces.