Thursday, June 20, 2013
A duo of British designers' passion for cycling and life-long dreams of flight has spawned one of the world's first flying bicycles -- a conventional bike that converts to an easy-to-operate aircraft that they say can soar to 4,000 feet and cover 75 miles-plus after liftoff.
Yannick Read, 42, and John Foden, 37, who met while living on the same road in Kingston upon Thames, England, quickly learned that aside from both being designers and avid cyclists, they always wanted to fly. The two decided to partner on what they saw as the next step in cycling: aviation.
"Growing up we wanted to be pilots," Read told ABCNews.com. "But training and maintenance and cost are real barriers. We wanted to create an aircraft that was as accessible, relatively speaking, as could be."
Read said he sent a long-shot email to Jim Edmondson with British paramotor manufacturer Parajet in March 2011, in which he outlined the duo's design and concept for their flying bike. To his surprise, he was quickly greeted with an enthusiastic response.
Read and Folden were encouraged to widen their concept and told they could have the Jim Edmondson's assistance and support.
The duo began to pen out ideas and concepts for what eventually became the Paravelo, a combination of a para-wing and a conventional bike, which tows a trailer carrying a powerful fan. Once in an open clearing, the cyclist can unfurl the para-wing, start the fan with an electric-start motor and, within a matter of yards, be airborne.
Read and Foden began a Kickstarter campaign this week with a goal of reaching £50,000 (about $78,000) to launch what he they're calling "safe, practical and affordable personal flight."
"We built a series of prototypes, and the current one is fairly polished," he said. "The next version, with funding, would be to develop, to ruggedize it, make it more robust, the way we envision it being used -- as a bicycle Monday to Friday. You will be able to commute on the bike. Then, make use of the flying capability."
Read says the latest prototype, which he describes as the size of a flight suitcase, can fit in the trunk of a car. "It's a niche product. We're not going to see cities with these swarming through the skies," Read said. "It's an unusual and adventurous evolution for the bicycle."
But is the flying bicycle, which in the U.K. doesn't require a special license to operate and is unregulated, totally safe for the average user? Read says it is.
"It's safe because of low air speeds. You're flying about 25 miles per hour, that low speed makes it so safe," he said. "In terms of controlling, it's like controlling a little Vespa scooter."
Training for flight in the Paravelo, Read says, can be completed in as little as seven days and, he adds, the vehicle could be useful for a number of professions, including park rangers and border patrol, as well as being a great addition for the adventurous weekender.
The prototype even features a built-in tent for what read calls "flamping," or flying and camping.
As for his and Foden's crowd-funding campaign, Read sees it not just as a way to help his dream take flight, but as exploratory means to gauge reaction and interest.
"Were being up front and saying that it looks pretty, and it works," he said. "We want to show it's a robust, practical, usable machine, that won't work just the day you buy it, but for many, many years."