Whereas small planes use more fuel per hour of operation, they also tend to arrive sooner at their destinations than cars do because they travel more or less in straight lines and, at least so far, traffic is lighter.
The flying motorcycle's body is also designed to be more environmentally friendly than a car's, given that the Switchblade exterior will be made of self-reinforced (and technically, recyclable) polypropylene—aka "number 5" plastic on food containers—whereas the frame will be steel tubing.
"From a scientific point of view, it is definitely possible to build an aircraft that can also negotiate a highway," says C. Nataraj, chair of Villanova University's mechanical engineering department.
Still, any reasonably complex system is optimized to do one thing, Nataraj says. Samson is trying to build one vehicle that does two complex tasks: safely transport people on crowded streets as well as in the air. Design and functional compromises would almost certainly have to be made to accommodate those twin missions, he adds.
There is a robustness to even civilian aircraft that is absent from cars, because, for the most part, a car breakdown entails pulling over. "If you get a ding in your door, no problem," Nataraj says. "Get a ding in your wing, and you will not be flying."
General aviation pilot and flight instructor Jeffrey Geibel of Belmont, Mass., says a craft like the Switchblade would have to be maintained per stringent FAA standards.
None of this is lost on Bousfield, and, like many a pioneer before him, he is pushing onward and upward. His next step will be wind-tunnel testing. An FAA-approved prototype is expected by year-end. And after that, the rest could possibly be personal transportation history.
A LEGACY OF AERO-BIKING
It's nearly impossible to definitively ascertain a "first" when it comes to small flying machines, especially flying motorcycles.
- There's a vintage silent film, apparently lost to the ages, of someone putting rockets and stubby wings on a bike. It didn't work.
- Evel Knievel put two wheels on a rocket and tried to jump his X-1 Skycycle across Idaho's Snake River Canyon in 1974. It didn't work—spectacularly.
- The Butterfly, LLC, has been producing flying three-wheel motorcycle kits since 2007. Its Butterfly Super Sky Cycle looks like the unlikely offspring of an old traffic helicopter, a go-kart and an Everglades airboat.
- Moller International debuted its prototype M400 Skycar, another trike, three years ago. The Skycar has promised innovations not least of which is vertical takeoff and landing. A peek at the Skycar's sleek body confirms that someone at Moller has watched a lot of Star Wars movies.