YAVNE, ISRAEL - Rafi Yoeli has an unconventional solution to saving people from burning high-rises or rescuing soldiers trapped behind enemy lines: a flying car. Yoeli already has gotten a rudimentary vehicle off the ground — about 3 feet — and hopes to see a marketable version of his X-Hawk flying car by 2010.
Although his dream might seem far-fetched, Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopters is taking a serious look, teaming with Yoeli’s privately held Urban Aeronautics to explore X-Hawk’s potential.
Think of the people trapped in the World Trade Center. Think of ground patrols in Iraq blown up by roadside bombs. Think of New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops after Hurricane Katrina.
X-Hawk and its smaller version, Mule, might one day offer the same capabilities as helicopters, but without the serious operating limitations — like exposed rotors — that helicopters face in urban terrain.
“The reality is that we have not been designing helicopters to operate in urban environments,” said M.E. Rhett Flater, executive director of the American Helicopter Society, a professional group. “What Rafi is doing is addressing that need to design some kind of vehicle that can operate in an urban environment, that can get close to buildings and skyscrapers, and provide some type of relief for people stranded in buildings.”
The concept of a flying utility vehicle dates back 50 years. Other design houses currently working on vertical lift concepts with enclosed rotors include U.S.-based Trek Aerospace Inc. and Moller International Inc., both of which focus on a different niche, personal use vehicles.
X-Hawk — for now just a full-size mold in Urban Aeronautics’ headquarters in the central Israeli town of Yavne — looks like a futuristic space car, with its streamlined design, two fans rising from the rear and cockpit-style driver’s seat.
But Yoeli envisions X-Hawk and Mule as more of a truck, pulling up to dangerous combat or terror arenas to ferry in personnel and supplies and ferry out people at risk.
Like a similarly sized helicopter, X-Hawk will be able to take off vertically, fly up to 155 mph and as high as 12,000 feet and remain aloft about two hours, Urban Aeronautics says.
But encased fans will replace the exposed rotors that keep helicopters from maneuvering effectively in urban areas or dense natural terrain because they have to stay clear of walls, power lines and mountain ridges. And a patented system of vanes is designed to afford the vehicle greater stability.