Friday, June 10, 2011

Potentially breakneck Aussie invention

Some Aussie activities don't look particularly risky at first sight. Take rock fishing, for example. There's no danger whatsoever in being perched on a rock on the edge of the ocean… as long as there are no big waves in the vicinity. For rock fishing to become dangerous, you need at least one big wave in the vicinity. Often a single exceptional big wave is largely sufficient...

An invention known as the Hoverbike is the brainchild of an Australian motorbike enthusiast named Chris Malloy, seen here astride a prototype version of his toy… conveniently tethered to the ground to prevent it from flying into the heavens.

For the moment, the device is being thoroughly tested, with utmost caution, and Chris has never been tempted to release the straps that force the craft to hover close to the ground. At some time in the future, though, Chris figures out that his invention would be capable of rising to an altitude of a couple of thousand meters, and cruising at a speed of over 250 km/hour (like a motorcyclist having fun on a country highway). Here's a view that lets you see the main components of this rather elementary machine:

It occupies roughly the same surface as an automobile, but it's not intended to travel down the same roads as traditional vehicles. One day, when it's flightworthy, the Hoverbike will share the same aerial itineraries as helicopters, ULMs, hang gliders, etc.

Will this craft be risky? No more so than rock fishing… when there are no big waves in the vicinity. At a rough glance, I would imagine that, if ever there were sudden power fluctuations in one of the two propellers, the Hoverbike would immediately develop a tendency to stand up on one end, or turn somersaults, or spin out of control, or maybe simply drop. In rock fishing terms, that would be like the sudden arrival of a really big wave. But nothing like this could possibly happen as long as the Hoverbike remains firmly tethered to the ground.

Maybe, one day soon, the Hoverbike might set out unexpectedly on its maiden flight into the sky… when two of those tethering straps happen to work loose from the ground, at the same time that the pilot is revving up his toy. If this were to happen, the drop to the ground would probably be harmless, but it would be important to avoid having a spinning propeller drift down onto the pilot's head.

When all's said and done, I think it would be preferable to stick to rock fishing, or other relatively safe pastimes such as bushwalking without a compass, or surfing on unknown beaches, or swimming in crocodile ponds… Or maybe riding an old-fashioned motorcycle along winding country roads at the same cruising speed as an air-borne Hoverbike.

Now, I can imagine brave young Hoverbike enthusiasts criticizing me for whimpering liked a scared child. If you're not prepared to take a few risks, then you shouldn't even dare to walk across a busy suburban road. As I've often pointed out, my grandfather died (at the age of 93) as a result of falling off a swivel chair while changing a light bulb in his Gold Coast apartment. So, what's so crazy about jumping onto a Hoverbike and opening the throttle, then flying through the air with the greatest of ease, like the daring young man on the flying trapeze? OK, your arguments are indeed convincing. I'll think about it, and let you know if I change my mind. Meanwhile, please carry on your tethered testing.

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