The Canadian dreamers at Airvinci have some Inspector Gadget-worthy plans for the flying lawnmower otherwise known as a helicopter. Come 2017, the firm intends to send people skywards in a single-seater personal flying craft it calls a “backpack helicopter.” And if the company's founder has his way, the chopper could become the foundation for an airborne version of Uber.
Before then, however, the company intends to test out the concept in the form of a prototype drone. Project manager Markus Engelhart says this summer’s initial test flight will happen in the United States sometime this summer, once a few vital components are finalized. Trials for the actual, human-flyable backpack helicopter itself—which is based on the drone, but features a single-seat pod snapped into place between the rotor and the landing gear—are penciled in for next year.
The company has listed some of the technical specifications on its website, but other specs have leaked out in advance of the first flight—some of which contradict the original ones. The official stats indicate an overall diameter of less than six feet, but recent reports say the fixed-pitch rotor itself is seven feet wide, with said rotor spinning inside a cowling. The drone will weigh 200 pounds and have a 260-pound cargo capacity. Two commercial-grade airplane engines, each making 28 horsepower and powered by jet fuel, will give the craft a 43.5-mph top speed and a flight time of about an hour.
Wildest of all, the Airvinci will be able to convert from unmanned drone to helicopter. Theoretically, you could use it to autonomously deliver a bull shark with a frickin’ laser beam to your henchmen, add on a seat, then fly it to your private volcanic island. Or, flyers could zip up to the projected 12,500-foot maximum altitude and jump out—with a parachute, unless you're Tom Cruise—while the Airvinci finds its way to a pre-programmed landing spot.
On the more practical side, Airvinci is also developing the ‘copter for search-and-rescue missions and firefighting operations. Founder Tarik Ibrahim even envisions people using his compact helos the same way they’d use Uber, scheduling autonomous pickups throughout a city and flying wherever they need to go.