It's 2011! Where's my flying car? According to Florida based Christian missionary organization Beyond Roads, it's here. Beyond roads, a division of I-TEC (which stands for Indigenous people's Technology and Education Center), is gearing up for the production phase of the Maverick, a Subaru-powered flying car designed to hop jungle missionaries over dense sections of rainforest and reach previously unreachable natives with humanitarian aid.
The Maverick is an LSA, or Light Sport Aircraft, which means the FAA will let you fly it if you have a sport pilot's license. Thrust along by a propeller at its rear, and hanging from a parachute wing, the aircraft is capable of a 10,000 foot altitude, a top airspeed of 40 miles per hour, and a range of around 90 miles. This is pretty standard territory for LSAs, but the Maverick breaks new ground when lands, because it can be converted to a self-contained, road-legal, off-road capable car in under ten minutes.
Powering the Maverick is a 2.5 liter Subaru flat four from an Impreza. And if you're thinking, “That's alot of juice for a car light enough to fly,” you're right. Though its low-inflation tires limit the top speed to 90, is has a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds, which is Ferrari F430 range.
Troy Townsend, the Maverick's chief design manager and test pilot, was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions about the flying car, which (full disclosure, here) I think is brilliant.
“The book says it's 175 horsepower, but we dyno them at 198 horsepower, because we don't put any of the emissions stuff that really pulls the power down... We've looked at lots and lots of engines over the years...and we needed just a good, solid, boxer-style engine that was water-cooled. In the aviation industry, Subaru hasn't had really good luck...but they've had really good luck in cars. And we're a car first, and an aircraft second... It's really been a rock-solid, bulletproof engine for us. We though about, early on, using a Rotax 912 type aviation engine, but the durability and longevity is nowhere close to the Subaru in car mode... So we wanted something with proven reliability over the road.”
The engine powers both the propeller and the wheels. How does that work with the transmission?
“It's one engine, basically, and two transmissions, and you can have either-or. The ground drive transmission is a CVT [(Constant Variable Transmission)] drive going into a reversing box differential...with a couple of speeds. Mostly the CVT does all the shifting automatically... The propeller drive is a cog-belt drive for the engine. Imagine a spline gear coming out of the engine...that can either shift over to the propeller side or the ground side.”
The Maverick is rear-wheel-drive. Have you looked at four-wheel-drive, or is it just too heavy?
“You know, we haven't had a big request for that at this point. If you bottom out or get the tires stuck, you can just turn on the propeller and push yourself out.”
Everything that I've seen says that it “flies like a car.” What exactly does that mean?
“That means that you use the exact same controls while you're driving on the road, to fly it... You use the steering wheel to turn left and right, and you use the throttle, the foot pedal...or it has integrated hand throttle, to go up and down. It's so transferrable to a car... Say you want to go up a hill in a car, you give it more gas... Basically, in the air, you give it more gas to go up, and...less gas to go down, and at a certain RPM it flies straight and level... It is a fly-by-wire system in the air, a servo controlled system.”
What's the maximum altitude?
“Legally, in the United States, under sport pilot rules, we're limited to ten thousand feet.”
But technically, it could go higher?
“After ten thousand feet, we would put our turbocharged engine on it, just to get more oxygen...then we could probably go up to fifteen to seventeen thousand.”
The wing is on a mast. What's the advantage?
“With a normal powered-parachute type aircraft, you lay the parachute out behind the cart, you get in, you start rolling forward, and you kite the parachute over you. So you really have to make sure it's lined up right into the wind...plus, you're dragging your parachute on the ground... Where we fly down in the lower Amazon, you can't drag the parachute more than a couple of feet before you rip it up, because the terrain is so rough. Basically, [the mast] gets it off the ground and gets it in position for flight...and it also allows some...crosswind takeoffs, crosswind landings, which are very hard to do without a mast-and-spar system.”
You call it the Maverick. Is that a Top Gun reference?
[Laughs.] “No, you know, we're a humanitarian mission organization first, and we kindof deemed it MAV- Mission Assault Vehicle, so we just developed the name, 'Maverick...' Some of our earlier prototype names were not very good. I think one of our prototypes was called a 'Cockroach,' and one...was called a 'Grasshopper,' because the vehicle was designed to drive through the bush as far as you can go, and then, if you need to hop a river or hop the canopy of the jungle, which goes up 80, 90 feet of trees...”
If you were to release it today, what would the cost be?
“For the missions side, it would be $56,000...for a total commercial venture, it's $84,000.”
If I were to call up for a Maverick, how would I buy one?
“Basically, we'd send you the purchase agreement and we'd take a down payment. We're starting production right now, and our production...is about six months out.”
You're a missionary organization, but you're going to be marketing this toward other industries...
“We have this commercial market that's kindof incringing on us because they're very interested in it. We'd been working on this thing for other countries, and really found out that we had a flying car. The commercial venture will help support the humanitarian side. So if there's any profit from the commercial side, it will basically go right back in to provide Mavericks for humanitarian aid and things like that.”
The Maverick is the first FAA certified flying car of its kind. Find it online at http://mavericklsa.com, where you can see footage of Troy romping around sand dunes and taking off and landing, which only takes 150 feet. I guess the future is here, and I think I know where my next 85 grand is going.
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