The legacy of the Aero-X goes back to a Cold War vehicle developed during the 1960s. Aerospace pioneer Frank Piasecki developed a similar "flying jeep" vertical takeoff and landing vehicle for the U.S. Army that could fly up to altitudes of thousands of feet in the air. But the Army abandoned the concept because of the stability and control issues that Aerofex set out to conquer more recently.
Part of Aerofex's effort to make Aero-X more user-friendly meant having the onboard computer throttling back on the vehicle's performance, so that human riders don't end up soaring too high or flying too fast. The company has also included a rollover bar to protect the riders in case of a crash, and is considering the possibility of a full-vehicle airbag system.
"If we can’t make it safe, we won’t sell it," De Roche says.
Restrictions on the Aero-X's future performance also ensure that users don't have to deal with too much red tape from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. By consulting with the FAA, Aerofex discovered that it could avoid the need for pilot licenses by limiting the vehicle's altitude to about 3.7 meters. That makes the vehicle more of an "aerial ATV," De Roche explains.
Individual U.S. states have other regulations, but for the most part a person riding the Aero-X around on their own private property -- such as the wheat fields of a family-owned farm -- should encounter no legal problems. Still, De Roche says he would actually prefer to be regulated by the FAA rather than operate in what he called a legal grey area.
Aerofex has also spent the past few years developing its hover vehicle technology -- both manned and drone versions -- for two other applications in cooperation with an unnamed agricultural corporation and the U.S. government, respectively. But the company sees the chance with its commercial "sport-utility" offering to create a third pillar to its business. Everyone from ATV enthusiasts to U.S. Border Patrol agents and park rangers could eventually take advantage of the hover vehicle's off-roading capabilities.
Some current prototypes for the Aero-X vehicle include unpowered wheels that could allow future users to move the 356-kilogram vehicle more easily out of the garage. But De Roche cautions against trying to operate the hover vehicle on ordinary streets or in urban areas where it would almost certainly be illegal. That shouldn't be a problem for most would-be buyers who want to wander the more open spaces. After all, where they're going, they don't need roads.
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