The Jetpack Aviation Speeder, one of the tiniest jets ever built, could soon receive its airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration and become the first licensed powered airplane. The aircraft uses eight tiny but powerful jet engines to lift its pilots off the ground.
However, obtaining the certificate has been taking longer than anticipated because it is a unique and unprecedented type of aircraft for the FAA to consider. “It’s a significantly different ‘animal’ than the FAA has ever dealt with,” said David Mayman, CEO of Jetpack Aviation.
Like a racing bike without wheels
While the original design had four turbines, the final product will have eight turbines, two in each corner of the engine to provide redundancy. In addition, the multiple engines will allow the roughly 300-pound Speeder to carry 600 pounds, a size/load ratio that sets the Speeder apart from other VTOL vehicles.
The Speeder P2 prototype is currently being rope-tested at the company’s California facility pending FAA certification. The prototype is already capable of autonomous takeoff and landing, as well as hovering and forward flight. The company will also present a full-size, sleek black model at its events to leave as little to the public’s imagination as possible. “It’s designed to put the rider in a seating position similar to that on a motorcycle, with the legs pointing down or back on the footrests, like on a racing motorcycle,” Mayman said.
An unmanned version is also being developed for the military market as a cargo aircraft. It can fly 100 feet (roughly 30 metres) above the ground at 400 miles per hour (640 km/h), making it almost impossible to shoot down. “We envision sending 10 of these planes from different directions, like a drone swarm, each loaded with cargo, on life-saving missions,” the director said.
By focusing on the military version first, it will be possible to fund prolonged testing before the aircraft is eventually transformed into a flying motorcycle, or as Jetpack Aviation calls it, an “autonomous flying vehicle”. It could lay the foundations for a new class of aircraft.
With a pilot in the saddle, the Speeder could potentially reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour (400 km/h), but even the best motorcyclist would have trouble staying airborne at such speeds. That’s why the company is throttling down the propulsion system and applying an altitude limit. The vehicle could theoretically climb up to 16,000 feet (nearly 5,000 metres) before running out of fuel. But then it would need a parachute to descend back down.
It has electronic control
The speeder will be controlled using fly-by-wire technology, similar to fighter jets. This means that the pilot’s movements and commands are detected by the system as electrical signals, and the system uses these commands to modify operations, such as changing heading or altitude.
The controls are designed to be simple, limited to switches on the hand grips, similar to a video game. “One is for take-off and landing, the other for speed and climb,” Mayman said. After the speeder takes off, it climbs to about six feet and then hovers, with its internal flight controller awaiting the pilot’s instructions. The control unit is connected to several sensors that sense where the aircraft is heading and what obstacles it needs to avoid to avoid collisions. If a building or tree comes in front of it, it automatically detects and avoids it.
The Jetpack Aviation Speeder, powered by mini jets capable of carrying two or three passengers, may eventually reach supersonic speeds, according to CEO David Mayman. The aircraft’s monocoque fuselage, similar to those used in Formula 1 race cars, could potentially allow it to reach speeds of 250 mph, while its small wings could allow it to fly for approximately an hour at a cruising speed of around 62 mph. While commercial certification for the
Speeder is likely years away, the aircraft has already garnered significant interest, with a starting price of $381,000 and pre-orders being taken by the company. Mayman remarked that at the Pacific Air Show last summer, many people said they wanted the Speeder rather than luxury cars such as Lamborghinis or Bentleys.