Inventor Designs 'Magic Carpet'

It saved Aladdin's neck in the children's story — and now a former Russian aerospace engineer is hoping his own magic carpet will do the same for others.

An aerospace engineer in Israel may have a space-age solution to a problem facing urban firefighters — how to rescue people trapped in high-rise buildings. Traditional methods like ladders and helicopters have their limitations.

We've had a sort of hovering craft for a long time now — the helicopter — but they can actually make fires more dangerous. The problem is the "open rotor," said David Metreveli, a former Russian aerospace engineer. It actually increases the intensity of a blaze by fanning flames and creating more debris. Ladders are also fairly limited. They can only go up eight stories before they become unstable.

But Metreveli and his company, DM Aerosafe Group, are in the midst of creating a vertical take-off platform. It would hover next to burning buildings, making it possible for people to climb out, Metreveli said. It could handle up to 10 people, seated or on a stretcher.

Called the Eagle, the $5 million rescue platform — cheaper than many helicopters — would have a lightweight graphite composite structure. It would be lined with heat-resistant rubber on the edges so it could bump into buildings during rescue operations. The pilot would be cocooned from flying debris by a shatter-proof glass cockpit.

Four horizontal fans would lift the platform, which would be protected from debris by tough Kevlar ducts and metal grilles. Two turbojet engines inside the fuselage are designed to power the fans. The fans will be linked to the engines through a central gearbox, with a clutch that will keep the platform flying even if one engine fails.

Could This Bird Fly?

Metreveli and his flying platform have some sceptics.

"It's got a long way to go," said George Burke, spokesman for the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) in Washington, D.C. The IAFF represents more than 225,000 professional firefighters and emergency service personnel in the United States and Canada.

Burke voiced several concerns about Metreveli's invention. While Metreveli and others are concerned with the downdraft from the open rotors of helicopters, Burke said the vertical take-off platform should could be vulnerable to updrafts. Heat from the fire below and to the sides of the platform could virtually catapult those who are seated or strapped on board, he said.

Second, he questioned who would help victims who have fallen unconscious from smoke inhalation or blinded by the fires. Firefighters will take up extra room on the platform, therefore limiting the number of people who can get on.

Lastly, Burke said the platform has only one use while a helicopter has several.

"All the innovation doesn't take the place of a well-trained firefighting staff," he said.

The Optimistic Inventor

Despite this, Metreveli said he's received positive feedback from fire departments around the world about the platform. "They say they think it will be very useful and very interesting," the inventor said.

Metreveli added that he was invited to an international firefighters conference in New Orleans this August where he said he will no doubt show the platform's prototype. Another $2 million is needed to complete the prototype, he said.

And then it will be up to him and other investors to see whether this magic carpet can really fly.