Would you like to fly — really fly? No planes, no airport lines, not even any wings — just you and the wind in your face?
James Bond did it — sort of. In the 1965 film Thunderball, 007 escapes the bad guys with a jet pack strapped to his back.
The jet pack was genuine — it was designed by an engineer at Bell Aerospace Corp. — but it barely had enough fuel to stay in the air for 30 seconds. Private flight has always seemed to be one of those things destined never to happen.
Now, a California entrepreneur named Michael Moshier says he can make the dream come true.
Moshier, a former Navy pilot who turned to manufacturing and real estate, has spent the last five years of his life working in secret, designing a tiny twin-blade helicopter called the Solotrek XFV. You don't get into it; you stand in its footrests and strap it on.
"When we demonstrate that it works, the rest will be history," he said at the offices of his small company, Trek Aerospace, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Taking Small Steps at First
Moshier says he made the first cautious test flight in the Solotrek in December in the firm's parking lot. It rose only two feet into the air at first, and was tethered for protection in case it went out of control — but to Moshier, two feet up was like being in heaven.
"The experience was exhilarating beyond description," he said. "I will tell you that I didn't sleep that night or for several nights thereafter. It was just a monumental experience."
With a little more work, he says, the machine will be able to zip around treetops at speeds of 80 mph, and go 130 miles on a tank of gas. He can picture the Army using it to get over rugged terrain, police flying on search-and-rescue missions — even people with no fear of heights who want a really cool way to commute.
Eventually, he says, people ought to be able to buy one for about as much as they would spend on a high-end sports car.
"A pilot who could walk and chew gum, with minimal training, should be able to get on the aircraft and fly it safely and intuitively," said Moshier.
Is It Viable?
The machine may fly — but will the idea?
Moshier has a $5 million grant from the Defense Department and design help from NASA. But won't the machine be noisy or dangerous or cause traffic jams?
"I think we can do it, but it would be expensive," said Jeffrey Schroeder of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. "I think the challenge is to build it so it has more of a mass appeal."
Moshier says he has heard his share of doubters, but he is convinced they'll be converted when they see the Solotrek work.
On the other hand, would he want to see his own mother 100 feet up in the air?
"Is my mom going to fly this?" He smiled. "No, but she's very supportive."