Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Two explorers have set off from Knightsbridge, London Wednesday morning (0900 GMT) in a propeller-powered dune buggy heading for the Sahara. Giles Cardozo, age 29, from Dorset, with chief pilot and expedition leader Neil Laughton, age 45, an ex-SAS officer, will fly and drive the amazing two-seater vehicle more than 6,000-km (3,750-miles) to fabled Timbuktu on February 20.
“I just can’t wait to see their faces when we fly in and start playing football with them. I don’t think they will be able to believe somebody in a flying car has just visited them,” ‘extreme golfer’ Mr Laughton said before the departure. Timbuktu (Timbuctoo; Koyra Chiini: Tumbutu; French: Tombouctou) is an isolated city in Tombouctou Region, in the West African nation of Mali. They will traverse Europe and Africa about 42 days to arrive at the city in Mali, West Africa before returning home via Senegal.
The home-made 450-kilogram Skycar has been designed by Cardozo in just 18 months. It is the world’s first road legal bio fuelled flying car. It is a four cylinders modified Rage Motorsport off-road racing buggy which was approved by the government last month. It runs on bioethanol and is powered by a modified 140bhp Yamaha R1 superbike engine with a lightweight automatic continuously variable transmission from a snowmobile.
The team invested about £250,000 ($380,000) to make the 1000cc engine Skycar desert-proof. In its maiden voyage, the flying car will be escorted by up to 13 people convoy including an eight-wheel truck, two Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4s and several motorbikes. It has left London’s Sheraton Park Tower hotel, heading through the capital to Dunsfold airfield in Surrey.
The team had initially planned to take the air route across the English Channel, but the 35km flight was vetoed by aviation authorities. Skycar is required by law to obtain a license from Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), including a permit from the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA). Skycar spokeswoman, Charlie Bell, however clarified that the team was “in liaison with the CAA and they are looking to finalize the permit,” adding that it is in order for the rest of the trip.
The Skycar will thereafter fly over the high-altitude Pyrenees near Andorra, and would cross over the 14-km (nine-mile) Strait of Gibraltar. The prepared journey also includes the route through Mauritania, Atlas Mountains in Morocco and into Mali. It will further cross the harsh environment of Sahara’s remote “Rub’ al Khali” (empty quarter), for up to two weeks amid real fears of terrorist attacks.
The expedition will not have an easy task, especially since the Skycar will be tested to the limits amid punishing operating environments and weather conditions. “Clearly the reliability of the car is crucial,” said Mr Laughton. “We’re going to have to cope with wind chill temperatures as low as -30 deg C and blistering heat of up to 50 deg C. But it’s been fully tested at a secret location and it 100 per cent works,” he added.
The Parajet Skycar is a prototype flying car. It was developed by British paramotor manufacturer Parajet. The flying car utilizes a paramotor and a parafoil attached to a modified dune buggy to achieve sustained level flight. Should the engine fail, the vehicle can glide back to the ground. Should the canopy rip, an emergency reserve parachute would be deployed. It requires three minutes to convert it from a car to an aircraft. The prototype runs on biodiesel and is fully road-legal.
In 2004 British engineer Giles Cardozo, a paramotor manufacturer, has invented a fan-powered flying car to prove the Skycar is real and works. “I started making a paramotor on wheels that you sit on and take off and it suddenly occurred to me, ‘Why not just have a car that does everything?’” Cardozo said. His Wiltshire-based company Parajet built the paramotor that the adventurer Bear Grylls did fly near Everest in 2008. In 1998, Grylls, aged 23, became the youngest British to ascend Mount Everest. In May 2007, Grylls and Cardozo departed from Pheriche, about 32 kilometres south of Mount Everest.
|I thought this would be an interesting challenge… Timbuktu is an iconic and quirky destination.|
Cardozo has claimed he may finally have made it. “I’ve been dreaming about making flying cars since I was a boy, thinking about all the ways it could be done and seeing how all the other people in the world have done it wrong. No one’s ever made one that really does work that you can go out and buy. But here’s the ultimate solution: it’s cheap, it’s safe, it works, all the technology’s already there. So I pushed ahead and thought, ‘We’ve got to do it’,” he said.
If the Skycar becomes successful, Cardozo’s company plans a limited production with a selling price of £35,000 to £40,000 for a standard model and £60,000 for a high-performance sports version. “It will be a serious aircraft but also a proper road machine, with acceleration to match your average sports car,” says Cardozo. “I’m not going to sell millions of them but even if we sell 20 we’ll be laughing,” he added.
The explorers, with the aid of sponsors, supporters and benefactor Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet OBE (known as ‘Ranulph (Ran) Fiennes’), have aimed to raise more than £100,000 for some charities including an African orphanage.