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Burt Rutan's flying car takes to the air


When Burt Rutan, the doyen of aircraft and spacecraft designers takes an outlandish aviation idea seriously it's probably time to sit up and take notice. The founder of Scaled Composites, the Mojave, California-based maker of record breaking planes, has designed and built his own "roadable aircraft" - a car that can be converted into a plane. His involvement in this nascent - and oft-derided - field adds considerable credibility to the notion that personal flight will one day become a reality.

Called the BiPod, the twin fuselage vehicle has two half-litre internal combustion engines that charge lithium-ion batteries in each nose. On the road, the BiPod's wings are stowed between the fuselages and the batteries power a 15-kilowatt electric motor to drive the rear wheels.

In flight mode, four 15 kilowatt motors - two on the wings and two on the tail's horizontal stabiliser - will provide the thrust. The propellors haven't been fitted to the prototype yet but the test vehicle (pictured above) has demonstrated some early potential by flying a few hops above the Mojave Air and Spaceport runway purely by getting the wheels up to flight speed (where airflow gives the wings enough lift to take off).

The news of Scaled's interest comes as MIT-spinout Terrafugia of Massachusetts wins road approval for the Transition, its own roadable aircraft - and as the European Union pumps €4.3 million into developing collision avoidance technology for such personal aircraft. The EU reckons it's only a matter of time, not technology, before we're taking off from our back yards - and wants to ensure the result is not a major-league train wreck as amateurs take to the air.

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