The Switchblade, a flying motorcycle brainstormed into reality by its visionary inventor, Sam Bousfield, may soon take to the skies.
Flying cars have been a mainstay of science fiction from the days of Hugo Gernsback and pulp fiction to the Star Wars saga and Hanna-Barbera's Jetson cartoons. But rarely has anyone thought of flying motorcycles, until now.
Making the transition from fiction to reality is not easy. First, there's the engineering. Once that challenge is overcome the next hurdle is the government.
A flying motorcycle must satisfy not one, but two of Uncle Sam's agencies: the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Pleasing both is almost as difficult as walking a tightrope made of one strand of fishing line. What pleases one agency may bring frowns from the other.
Bousfield takes it all in stride. His Northern California engineering firm, Samson Motorworks, still plans on introducing the whiz bang winged cycle sometime during 2011. Samson is a company driven by the vision of literally driving into the wild blue yonder.
To meet the federal regulations laid down for what constitutes a motorcycle, Bousfield went with three wheels for the bike. That helped him avoid a veritable Gordian knot of auto regulations. He also made calculated end runs around other regulatory mandates and landmines built into the structure of the FAA and NHTSA.
The result of the delicate balance between closely watching regulatory giants culminated with a work of art and, well, a multi-mode vehicle, as the company's corporate website refers to the Switchblade.
The snazzy space-age appearing vehicle can seat two side-by-side like a sports car. They are snug in the vehicle's leather seats and pampered by its full-range climate control. The instrument array in front of the driver-pilot sports a full complement of road gauges and avionic displays. Samson says the instruments automatically switch from airborne to ground displays upon take-offs and landings.
The airworthy appendages slip into position like scissors, swinging out from behind the driver-pilot as the rear stabilizer extends and locks into place. Everything works automatically servo-motors doing the work like an automatic top on a convertible.
After a flight, the wings tuck back into the main body of the motorcycle fuselage protected underneath a rigid steel housing.
When not in flight two rear view mirrors fold out to make it roadworthy.
According to the company, the Switchblade will be available as a do-it-yourself kit. To meet experimental aircraft regulations, the buyer must assemble no less than 51 percent of the vehicle.
Bousfield believes he can bring it to market as a DIY kit for about $60,000. That price, however, does not include the 120 to 150hp engine. Adding the engine boosts the cost another $25,000. At least three engines already on the market can be used.
Only a few important steps lie ahead before Samson can drive their prototype into the sky. They need to finish wind tunnel testing and get the Switchblade blessed by the FAA as an approved prototype.
Scientific American, which reviewed the project, asked C. Nataraj, chair of Villanova University's mechanical engineering department what he thought of the project.
"From a scientific point of view," he said, "it is definitely possible to build an aircraft that can also negotiate a highway."