California’s Jetpack Aviation has completed flight testing on its first prototype of the Speeder, a jet turbine-powered flying motorcycle, says an article published in NewAtlas.
Successful flight testing
After spending 18 months building an entirely new form of flight control software, California’s Jetpack Aviation has completed flight testing on its first prototype of the Speeder, a jet turbine-powered flying motorcycle. Top speeds on the final version will be rather epic.
The flying motorcycle
When we last caught up with David Mayman, inventor, madman and one of the world’s very few expert jetpack pilots, he was starting work on a new personal flight device very different to anything else on the market.
The Speeder would be a very small VTOL aircraft, powered by the same extremely powerful miniature jet turbines Mayman has been flying his jetpacks around on. In this case, it would carry much higher loads, including up to two people, at higher speeds, and it’d also be much quicker and easier to deploy than a jetpack – you’d just hop on and fly.
Crucially, it would also be electronically self-stabilized, just like an electric VTOL. This sounds simple and routine, but it’s not; electric motors deliver torque nearly instantly – that’s why multicopter drones and eVTOLs can vary thrust across multiple props so quickly and balance themselves in the air.
Jet turbines are much slower to ramp thrust up and down; Mayman currently controls his jetpacks very manually, literally tilting the turbines with his arms and staying “ahead of the jets” on the throttle to keep himself aloft and in control.
Stable, safe and simple
So to build a flying motorcycle that’s as stable, safe and simple to fly as a drone (while flying much faster and farther, with more cargo), the Jetpack Aviation team had to go back to first principles and code a new type of flight control software that doesn’t rely on rapidly varying thrust to balance and control itself.
“We had to start from scratch,” Mayman tells us over a video call from his family home in France. “We have a great flight systems engineer, but he had to go back to physics modelling. And we had some different thrust configurations we wanted to try, so we had to create flight control software that could be totally flexible. Our first prototype, P1, is this big aluminum chassis, way larger than it needs to be, so we can move the engines around, try out different placements. If it was electric, you could go to a code library for a bunch of that. We had to write every line of code in the flight controller.”
Instead of thrust differential, JPA uses what it calls jetovators – servo controlled nozzles that can quickly vector the thrust from each jet in 360 degrees to make lightning-quick balance corrections and execute maneuvers. And with the new flight control software, Mayman says it’s working like a charm.
“It’s pretty surprising how stable and resilient it is when we move engines around, shift the center of mass, or just the weight changes as the fuel load goes down,” he says. “We’ve put dummy loads on it, it handles them very well, it just automatically counteracts that sort of thing. We’ve been test-flying it in 30-knot winds. I’ll send you a video clip, you can see the safety tether’s not supporting it.”
There’s a chance as well to do some work on the ferocious noise that these jet turbines make. One approach, says Mayman, would be to scallop the exhaust tips like they do on commercial jet aircraft, reducing and possibly slightly phasing out some of the shear noise you get when the fast-moving jet exhaust comes up against still ambient air. Another might be to surround the turbines themselves with acoustic aerogel sound absorption.
First manned speeder flight
It’s unclear when the first manned Speeder flights will take place, but when it does happen, there’s no doubt about who’s going to be first to fly it. He may be spending a lot more time these days in CEO mode, fundraising and lining up deals, rather than cutting metal in the workshop or blasting around on one of his JB-series jetpacks, but David Mayman is a pilot first and foremost. “Oh yeah,” he grins. “I’m putting myself up for the first manned test.”
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