A month ago, the Czech Republic was hit by heavy floods; then, there was a police raid at the Office of the Government; the government collapsed and a new prime minister was named. At around the same time, engineers from three Czech firms tested a new flying bike. Now there’s a story. Radio Prague has more on the F-Bike in this week’s In Focus.
If you saw E.T. as a kid, chances are that you never forgot that shot of the extraterrestrial and co. flying a boy’s BMX with the moon and evening clouds as a backdrop. The idea of flying bikes has been around since the start of aviation itself. Now Czechs have taken a step closer to making a functional flying bicycle, the prototype F-Bike, which engineers from cooperating companies tested for the first time last month in a hall at Prague’s Vystaviště fairgrounds. The company Technodat spearheaded the project, providing key software; Evektor provided aviation expertise; and respected Czech bike manufacturer Duratec produced the frame for the bike itself.
Duratec’s technical director Milan Duchek told me more about the project:
“On one level, there is a parallel: you can find inspiration for the project in the flying machines of Jules Verne or Jaroslav Foglar. That said, the main impulse for us was really to see what three companies could do, to see what we could come up with if we put our heads together. The idea was for each firm to provide key components and combine them in a single project.”
The resulting F-bike is a technical gem but hardly the lightest bike on the block, weighing 95 kilos thanks in no small part to an attached battery and motorized propellers which allow it to hover and fly like a small helicopter. It looks like a contraption the X-Men or James Bond would be perfectly comfortable with. But imagine, for a second just owning one: flying above the traffic when necessary. How does it operate? Milan Duchek explains:
“The bike is battery-powered. In the air, it is lifted and held up by six motorized propellers: the front and back are double – one on top with a second lower down. The side propellers are single and serve to stabilize machine and make sure it doesn’t tip over during flight. Once on the ground, you can flip the side propellers 90 degrees to help the cyclist as he rides.”
Part of the reason, currently, why the project can’t go past the prototype stage are present-day limits in battery-life. For it to be truly dual-purpose, more significant advances there will have to be made.
“The aim is to be able to have a vehicle that can do two things: take flight, as well as be pedalled on the ground. Currently the main drawback is the life of the battery. Today, a safe test flight can last only five to eight minutes. The trend is such that battery capacity roughly doubles every ten years and the rate of progress itself is exponential, so it is conceivable that at some point batteries required for the vehicle to be effective will become available. This bike, of course, was never intended for mass production.”
Some may challenge the claim that the F-bike is the world’s first flying bicycle, others have already developed flying bikes of sorts of their own. But Milan Duchek says no other projects fulfil the criteria of a pedalled two-wheeler as closely. Other designs use an array of propellers or hitch three-wheel buggies to glider parachutes; only the F-Bike resembles a classic hardtail, at least in some respects.
“As far as I know, no one has produced a ‘rideable’ flying bike. We saw projects by students and there are different prototypes... but a bike which can be ridden as well as flown is something we’ve not seen yet.”
As with any bike, the frame is the heart of the vehicle. What is the frame made from, what are some of the components?
“The bike’s frame is constructed from an aluminium alloy known as 7020-T6 but to be fair it doesn’t have much in common with a classic bike frame. Since it was necessary to attach so much equipment – from the battery to the propellers – we basically had to start from scratch.
“Component-wise we made use of a number of special items we produce for extreme riding: there are the fat ‘snow’ tires that are used, for example, by extreme cyclist Jan Kopka, who depended on them when he raced in Alaska. Those help soften the landing of the bike.”
For the first test, the bike was radio-controlled from the ground: seated in the saddle was only a helmeted crash-test dummy; it is hoped as soon as the autumn a real rider could get in the saddle to give the flying bike a spin.
“We would like the bike to be flown by a real pilot at the handlebars but that is more complicated. For that you need many more permits than were required for the first test flight in the hangar. Once you go outside, things get more difficult. If we do go ahead, two options will be on the table: either the bike will again be guided from the ground or it will be flown by the person in the saddle himself. The latter is of course the more exciting option, but we’ll have to see which is the more realistic.”
After that, the F-Bike may see further testing but eventually will most likely go on permanent display at Technodat headquarters. The producers will also consider at some point releasing technical data from the project online, to allow young inventors to work with the original design with the aim of improving it. It is conceivable that some may take the F-bike in new directions and lay the grounds for new prototypes to come. In the meantime, if you want to see video of the first test flight in Prague, clips have been posted online.